G20 seeks to banish 'currency war' spectre in Moscow

Finance ministers from G20 states gathered Friday in Moscow for their first meeting in the Russian capital aimed at reassuring markets that the world's economic powers would not slug it out in "currency wars" to boost national growth.

The troubles of the debt-ridden eurozone will for the first time in several international meetings not be centre stage, with the main concern expected to be Japan's controversial plan for "monetary easing" that weakens the yen.

World economic policymakers need to find ways to boost growth without using instruments that could cause market turbulence or wreck international financial coordination.

The main challenge for the G20 is to "bring the world economy out of stagnation and uncertainty, and move on a firm path towards growth," President Vladimir Putin told the ministers as they met.

But EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn indicated that taking that path might not be easy: "The short-term outlook for the euro area is improving, although forecasts indicate the economy will only gather momentum slowly over the course of this year," he said.

The two-day G20 meeting, being hosted by Russia for the first time as it holds the presidency of the world's leading economies, is a prime chance for Moscow to present itself as a reliable global economic player.

Russia has set the task during its presidency -- which will culminate in the G20 summit from September 5-6 in Saint Petersburg -- of launching a "new cycle of growth" through investment, transparency and regulation.

But economists fear that currency devaluations -- making the national currency cheaper to spur exports and domestic activity -- could prove too tempting if governments see no other way out.

"We do not want state intervention in exchange rates. We want exchange rates that are determined by the markets," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told German Radio ahead of the talks.

"I am actually very confident that will also be the joint position of all G20 countries in Moscow," Schaeuble added in an interview on Germany's Inforadio.

-- 'Forex rates must be set by the market' --

The Japanese answer to the US policy of quantitative easing -- the buying by the central bank of bonds held by banks to increase the quantity of money in the economy -- would be aimed at helping Japan reach an inflation target of 2.0 percent after years of deflation.

Under heavy pressure from new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic party, Japan's central bank last month announced plans for monetary easing which immediately pushed down the yen.

But the Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Angel Gurria denied that a currency war was in progress, saying everyone wanted Japan to rid itself of the curse of deflation.

"There is no currency war. We are further today away from a currency war than we were two years ago or three years ago," he said in Moscow.

"What we have is a number of countries using their instruments, whatever room they have left on the monetary side."

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, quoted by Dow Jones Newswires, dismissed the talk of currency wars as inappropriate and counterproductive.

But Russia -- which does not want to see the ruble appreciate against other currencies to the extent it hurts the domestic economy -- had indicated its strong opposition to artificial currency devaluations.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that in the final communique the finance ministers would state that "exchange rates are determined by the market."

The G7 group of the world's richest nations -- including Japan -- issued a statement Tuesday to calm markets by declaring a commitment to "market-determined exchange rates".

The United States has urged the world to refrain from "competitive devaluation", a message echoed by the EU commission, France and Germany.

An appreciation of the euro as market sentiment improves could also be damaging for the extremely fragile economy in the eurozone.