G20 leaders to convene by video conference on Thursday about coronavirus

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Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 06:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Journalists sit in the media center during the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 22, 2020./File Photo - REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Journalists sit in the media center during the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 22, 2020./File Photo - REUTERS

RIYADH, March 24 (Reuters) - Leaders from the Group of 20 major economies will convene a video conference on Thursday to discuss the coronavirus epidemic, the Saudi secretariat said, amid criticism that the group has been slow to respond to the global crisis.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed during a separate video conference this week to develop an "action plan" to respond to the outbreak, which the International Monetary Fund expects will trigger a global recession. A subsequent statement offered few details.

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 G20 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 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. Surveys show the pandemic is battering the global economy.

Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said given monetary policy constraints, the G20 countries' only option to support growth might be fiscal stimulus, but that could raise the risk of a debt crisis, with "devastating effect on global growth."

"This is something that G20 leaders will have in mind if they go for stimulus packages," Demarais added.

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