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VOL. 123 | NO. 224 | Friday, November 14, 2008

Business Groups Compile G-20 Wish Lists


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WASHINGTON (AP) – Business groups are seeking to use this weekend's international economic summit to put their stamp on any regulatory reform that could be adopted in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Many governments around the world are expected to tighten their oversight of banks and other financial firms. The meltdown stemmed from housing slumps in the U.S. and some European countries, and has caused domestic and European banks to write off hundreds of billions of dollars in losses.

Financial regulation is one of the top agenda items for this weekend's G-20 summit meeting, which will draw leaders from developed countries such as the U.S., Great Britain, France and Japan, as well as emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

Business groups such as the Financial Services Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pushing their own guidelines.

"There's wide agreement in both business and government ... that our financial regulatory structure is incredibly outdated and in need of an overhaul," said David Chavern, chief operating officer for the chamber.

Chavern said regulatory changes are likely in Europe and Asia, in addition to the U.S., where congressional leaders already have indicated that financial regulatory reform will be a top priority next year.

The chamber hopes the G-20 countries will adopt principles such as the need for common international standards in areas like accounting, Chavern said. In addition, the chamber supports extending oversight to some areas that aren't now regulated, such as financial derivatives.

One benefit of the summit, Chavern said, is that it includes a broader group of leaders than the G-8 meetings of industrialized nations. That's important because many U.S. banks conduct business in countries such as South Korea, Brazil and other G-20 members, he said.

The financial services industry, meanwhile, wants governments to set up "systemic risk" regulators that evaluate the dangers individual institutions pose to the broader financial system, according to Scott Talbott, a lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable. The Roundtable represents large banks and insurance companies including Allstate Corp., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.

Talbott said his group has met with representatives of about 12 of the G-20 countries. His group's members aren't looking for more regulation, Talbott said, but rather "more effective regulation."

As an example of systemic risk, Talbott cited American International Group Inc., which was first bailed out in September because of the risk that its collapse would cause huge losses for banks and other firms worldwide.

Still, business groups don't have high expectations for the summit, given the difficulty of getting numerous governments with widely divergent financial systems to agree on something as sensitive as how they should be regulated.

Chavern said the chamber expects the G-20 will produce a statement that includes a "common, general vision" about the need to pursue regulatory reform, with commitments for additional meetings.

That's far short of what France and some other European countries have sought. They would like the meeting to produce concrete agreements on broader international financial regulation.

But Chavern and many other observers note that officials from the G-20 countries have had little opportunity to lay the groundwork for such breakthroughs.

They note that the Bretton Woods meeting in 1944, where 44 countries agreed to set up the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other international bodies, was preceded by two years of lower-level preparatory work.

"I will count it as a success if there is a clear path" set out for further discussions on financial regulation, said Dani Rodrik, an economics professor at Harvard University.

"The best that we can hope for is some general statement on strengthening capital and liquidity standards, and improving credit rating practices," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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