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Aso lays bare G20 split on downturn

By Mure Dickie in Tokyo

Published: March 31 2009 23:40 | Last updated: March 31 2009 23:40

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Taro Aso has dismissed Angela Merkel’s warnings about the risks of excessive public spending in the global downturn, saying Germany has failed to understand why strong fiscal action is vital for recovery.

The Japanese prime minister’s remarks – made in an interview with the Financial Times – underline the wide differences among world leaders as they head to London for Thursday’s G20 meeting on the global slump.

Ms Merkel, German chancellor, said last week that spending more public money as part of a co-ordinated stimulus risked creating an unsustainable recovery.

However, Mr Aso said that what his country went through after its asset price bubble burst in the early 1990s made clear that fiscal stimulus played a critical role in restoring growth.

“Because of the experience of the past 15 years, we know what is necessary, whilst countries like the US and European countries may be facing this sort of situation for the first time,” Mr Aso said. “I think there are countries that understand the importance of fiscal mobilisation and there are some other countries that do not – which is why, I believe, Germany has come up with their views.”

In a further sign of tensions ahead of Thursday’s summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, has threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if his demands are not met.

Mr Sarkozy reportedly told cabinet colleagues on Monday that there would be “an empty chair” – a reference to Charles de Gaulle’s seven-month boycott of the European Economic Community in 1965 – if he was not satisfied, although diplomats in Paris later downplayed his comments.

Ms Merkel has cited Germany’s heavy public debt as a reason for caution on spending, but Japan – which, along with Germany and China, has been accused of contributing to global economic imbalances by running structural trade surpluses – has record government liabilities equivalent to more than 170 per cent of GDP.

Mr Aso said a Japanese stimulus package outlined on Tuesday would “mobilise all available means” to prevent the world’s second largest economy’s “floor” from “falling out”. The prime minister, whose government is already implementing stimulus spending measures worth about Y12,000bn ($120bn), said it was too early to talk about the likely scale of the new package. However, ruling party politicians have suggested it include fiscal spending of about Y20,000bn.

Saying Japan was ready to “take the lead” in global efforts to address the slump, Mr Aso said Tokyo would provide more than $22bn in additional trade financing assistance and give global coverage to a trade insurance network it announced for the Asia-Pacific region last year.

Japan would also offer Y500bn over the next three years in new overseas development aid for Asian countries suffering from the global downturn and stand by its pledge to double such aid for Africa by 2012, Mr Aso said.

Mr Aso said he would push for stronger funding of the International Monetary Fund through an increase in its New Arrangements to Borrow, while also calling for the proceeds of sales of IMF gold to be used for assistance to the poorest countries and for a fresh allocation of Special Drawing Rights.

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