14 Nov 2008

Bush continues to champion free market system

9:30 pm on 14 November 2008

United States President George Bush has put forward a vigorous defence of the free market system, but acknowledged there should be some reforms to correct the problems that led to the global financial crisis.

Leaders of the Group of 20 richest economies are holding their first meeting in Washington to devise a joint strategy to deal with the rapidly spreading global financial crisis.

G20 countries will examine the causes of the downturn, assess the global response so far and discuss ways to reform the system.

Before the summit, Mr Bush went to Wall Street to set out his views and agenda for the summit that will begin efforts to reform the global financial regulatory system.

"While reforms in the financial sector are essential, the long-term solution to today's problems is sustained economic growth," Mr Bush said at Federal Hall. "And the surest path to that growth is free markets and free people."

He made his argument even as the US government has set billions of dollars for taking stakes in banks to help jump-start lending again. "I'm a market-oriented guy, but not when I'm faced with the prospect of a global meltdown."

Mr Bush also encouraged leaders to consider some reforms like those for the international financial institutions.

The G20 meetings on Friday and Saturday bring together key emerging-market countries, including China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, with the so-called Group of Seven industrial nations to begin examining the causes of the turmoil and devise solutions.

Governments have already thrown hundreds of billions of dollars into the markets in a bid to thaw frozen credit markets, calm jittery traders and prevent the global economy from spiraling into a recession.

While some leaders have called for undertaking big reforms to the financial architecture, the Bush administration so far has been more cautious. There have been questions about whether differences could be bridged to achieve tangible progress.

More difficult days ahead - Bush

Mr Bush warned in his speech that the crisis would not be solved overnight and there would be more "difficult days ahead," but said leaders at the summit would set principles for adjusting their own financial systems and discuss actions they can take to implement them.

While acknowledging that critics from across the ideological spectrum are "equating the free enterprise system with greed and exploitation and failure", Mr Bush argued that the crisis was not a failure of the free market system.

"The answer is not to try to reinvent that system. It is to fix the problems we face, make the reforms we need, and move forward with the free market principles that have delivered prosperity and hope to people all across the globe."

He also urged that institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank be overhauled, including considering giving more voting power to developing economies as they contribute more to those institutions.

The gathering will be the first in a series and US officials expecting the next to occur during the first quarter of 2009, after Mr Bush, a Republican, has left office and is succeeded by President-elect Barack Obama, a Democrat.