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Economic Instability Tops Agenda For G20 Ministerial Meeting

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn after meetings with finance chiefs ahead a G20 meeting in Paris, February 18, 2011

Finance ministers from the Group of 20 largest economies meet in Paris Friday and Saturday to consider ways to maintain stability in the global economy. The ministers will also discuss soaring food prices that helped spark protests across the Arab world.

France has big ambitions for its G20 presidency this year, but experts say there are obstacles to just meeting the immediate goals of this two-day finance ministers meeting. The ministers will try to agree to a set of tools to measure massive imbalances in the world economy - the kind of imbalances sparking the global economic downturn that many countries are still struggling to emerge from.

Those tools include ways to measure high levels of public debt and deficit and real exchange rates - a key subject of controversy, for example, when it comes to China's currency.

The ministers will also address a sharp spike in prices for food and other basic goods in recent months that have been particularly hard for poor nations. High prices counted among the factors driving recent protests in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has outlined some of France's goals, including creating a more stable monetary system and a less volatile pricing structure for raw materials.

Lagarde told France Info radio that France did not want to dictate prices. But she said transparency in the commodity market was critical. She also proposed establishing a kind of insurance mechanism for producers and consumers.

The World Bank warned this week that world food prices had reached dangerous levels and that ensuring food security was a global concern.