G-20 leaders to speak on March 26 about coronavirus

A photo taken on March 18, 2020, shows empty streets in Riyadh amid drastic measures to contain the coronavirus in the desert kingdom. - Saudi Arabia had called for a "virtual" G-20 summit over coronavirus.
A photo taken on March 18, 2020, shows empty streets in Riyadh amid drastic measures to contain the coronavirus in the desert kingdom. - Saudi Arabia had called for a "virtual" G-20 summit over coronavirus.PHOTO: AFP

RIYADH (REUTERS) - Leaders from the Group of 20 (G-20) major economies will hold a video conference on Thursday (March 26) to discuss the coronavirus epidemic, multiple sources told Reuters, amid criticism that the group has been slow to respond to the global crisis.

G-20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed during a separate video conference on Monday to develop an "action plan"to respond to the outbreak, which the International Monetary Fund expects will trigger a global recession.

A separate statement published late on Tuesday said Saudi Arabia’s 84-year-old King Salman would chair the meeting "to advance a coordinated global response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications."

One source said the G-20 sherpas, who are the leaders’emissaries, would speak on Wednesday to prepare.

Summits typically take months to prepare, with deputies gathering in person to hash out differences before leaders arrive but in this case, because of health precautions, they are convening remotely, which could make reaching compromises harder.  

The extraordinary leaders' summit will be complicated by an oil price war between two members, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and rising tensions between two others, the United States and China, over the origin of the virus, which has infected nearly 400,000 people globally and killed more than 17,200.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has welcomed the fiscal and monetary steps taken by some countries, but said more would be needed, especially in the fiscal arena.

Ms Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said given monetary policy constraints, the G-20 countries' only option to support growth might be fiscal stimulus, but even that remains in question.

"This is because the introduction of fiscal stimulus measures may raise the risk of a debt crisis once the coronavirus epidemic is over; such a prospect would have a devastating effect on global growth," she said.

"This is something that G-20 leaders will have in mind if they go for stimulus packages."