In a veiled warning to the next American President, Gordon Brown described protectionism as the “road to ruin” yesterday as international tensions surfaced at the start of the G20 summit in Washington.
As world leaders assembled for dinner at the White House last night at the start of the two-day meeting, the backdrop was one of plunging sales and surging unemployment. The New York stock market dropped 350 points after official data showed that US retail sales had fallen by 2.8 per cent in October, the biggest slide for 16 years.
The mood was darkened further with confirmation that the eurozone was now in the grip of recession for the first time since the creation of the single currency in 1999.
The news will add impetus to calls for internationally co-ordinated tax cuts, public infrastructure projects and other measures to stave off a severe global recession. Although some measures to reform international financial oversight are set to be agreed at the G20 meeting this weekend, no substantial deals are expected before the inauguration of Barack Obama in January.
Mr Brown was already risking confrontation with the President-elect in barely coded criticism of a planned measure to bail out America’s ailing carmakers, a plan Mr Obama supports. “I do think it is really important that we send out a signal today that protectionism would be the road to ruin,” the Prime Minister said, in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations in New York.
“If we get into a situation where countries made decisions irrespective of what happened anywhere else, then we will see the same problems of other times. The dividing line here is between an open society capable of trading round the world, against a protectionist response that happened in the 1930s and is totally unacceptable.”