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G20 confronts Europe, US fiscal challenges

Laurent Thomet
Spanish Economy and Competitiveness Minister Luis de Guindos (R) and economic counselor Francisco J. Garzon (L) arrive for a G20 finance ministers' and central bank governors' meeting in Mexico City.

G20 powers confronted threats to the world economy on Monday, with Europe and the United States under pressure to swiftly resolve fiscal challenges that could undercut global growth.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 leading developed and emerging economies held a second day of talks in Mexico City as the eurozone debt crisis continues to worry policymakers worldwide.

But the United States is also in the spotlight over a looming "fiscal cliff" of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes in January that could harm the US economy and global growth.

"The G20 is here to put pressure on one another," a senior G20 official said. "The Europeans always say, 'Look at what's going on in the United States.' The United States recognizes that the stakes are high."

The IMF slashed its 2012 global growth forecast to 3.3 percent, eurozone unemployment rose to a record 11.6 percent in September and growth decelerated in emerging nations.

Since a G20 summit in June, the eurozone has moved closer to a banking union and activated a 500-billion-euro ($650 billion) crisis firewall, while the European Central Bank unveiled a bond-buying program.

While G20 nations "recognize" the progress made in Europe, "there is also impatience and a strong demand for all of this to be put in place in an effective and concrete way," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Greece faces key deadlines to avoid bankruptcy this month while Spain is under pressure to seek a bailout of its own amid a recession that has pushed the unemployment rate to 25 percent.

Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos outlined his country's banking and labor reforms to G20 counterparts at a dinner Sunday night.

But he told reporters Monday that his country does not need a rescue from European partners for now.

"The Spanish treasury is well financed this year," he said. "We have almost closed our financing needs for this year. We have a relatively comfortable liquidity situation."

Greece, meanwhile, has been negotiating with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to unlock a 31.5 billion euro tranche of a bailout package or risk bankruptcy this month.

The Greek parliament will hold crucial votes this week on a new round of austerity demanded by international lenders. But Greece also wants a two-year delay to implement its fiscal obligations, an issue that divides Europeans.

A European official downplayed expectations that eurozone finance ministers will reach a formal decision on Greece at their next meeting on November 12, saying that the financing debate must be resolved first.

Other G20 officials put an emphasis on the fiscal situation in the United States.

But US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent a deputy to the G20 talks, as did other key G20 policymakers, including European Central Bank president Mario Draghi and the finance ministers of France and Brazil.

The White House and Congress need to reach a compromise by the end of the year to avoid the fiscal cliff, but a resolution will have to wait until after Tuesday's presidential election, with US President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney locked in a tight race.

"The fiscal cliff is a sort of sword of Damocles," de Guindos said.

"What happens tomorrow in the presidential and legislative elections in the United States will be crucial," he said. "For this reason the US delegation could not be very categorical."