Three days of meetings on global economic issues ended Sunday at the International Monetary Fund in Washington. Finance ministers from around the world leave Washington optimistic that the world economy is gaining strength and should remain strong this year and next.

Finance ministers agreed with an IMF forecast of over four percent growth in the world economy this year. That would be the best performance since 1999 and the IMF says the trend will continue through 2005. Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, chaired the IMF policy-making committee meeting.

He said Britain and the United States are doing particularly well. "It is a recovery that is strengthening and becoming more broadly based. I think as far as the IMF forecast about the UK, you can see that as a positive sign of what growth is likely to be this year. And the American economy is growing even faster," he said.

But in fact it is the Chinese economy that is growing faster than most others, moving ahead at an eight to nine percent annual rate. U.S. growth is from four to five percent.

The finance officials endorsed the candidacy of outgoing Spanish finance minister Rodrigo Rato to assume the top job at the IMF following the resignation of Germany's Horst Koehler last month.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn welcomed a promise by rich countries to do more to alleviate the crushing debt burden of Africa's poorest countries. He said the world is on target to meet the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015. But he said statistical advances are somewhat misleading as almost all the progress on poverty alleviation is accounted for by rapid economic growth in China and India.