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G-20 Leaders Agree To Economic Reform

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

President Bush greeted world leaders to the G-20 economic summit in Washington this morning.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Good morning, Mr. Secretary General.

Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): (Unintelligible).

President BUSH: Nicolas Sarkozy, good morning.

Unidentified Man: Good morning.

President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): Good morning, President.

President BUSH: Thank you, sir.

President SARKOZY: Happy to see you here.

President BUSH: Yeah.

SEABROOK: It was a cloudy, blustery day in the nation's capital, something of a reflection of the state of the world's economy. The leaders met behind closed doors. On the agenda, what caused the economic crisis and what to do about it. After nearly five hours, the meeting ended, and the leaders issued a 10-page declaration. President Bush came out and said it had been a productive session.

President BUSH: And so it makes sense to come out of here with a firm action plan, which we have. It also makes sense to say to people that there is more work to be done, and there will be further meetings - sending a clear signal that a meeting is not going to solve the world's problems.

SEABROOK: NPR's John Ydstie is here now. And, John, did the summit declaration contain any surprises?

JOHN YDSTIE: No, no big surprises here. What we got was a general statement about the causes of the financial problems, things we've heard before - too much risk-taking by investors, the problem of overly-complex financial instruments, the failure of regulators and policymakers. Then we got a broad agreement on areas for reform, enhancing sound regulation and reinforcing international cooperation, improved monitoring of markets, that sort of thing.

SEABROOK: Hmm.

YDSTIE: There were a couple of concrete proposals, though. One involves putting together what they're calling a college of supervisors, regulators from around the world who would meet together periodically and assess the strength of big international financial institutions who do business across borders and which no single national regulator can really get a handle on.

SEABROOK: Hmm.

YDSTIE: Another concrete suggestion was setting up a stronger early warning system through the IMF and another international group called the Financial Stability Forum to try to anticipate these economic problems.

SEABROOK: Interesting. One of the big differences about this summit, John, and previous summits during financial turmoil, you've always - in those, you had a much smaller group, the G-7. Why G-20?

YDSTIE: Well, the leaders who pushed for this summit, French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, argued the whole world is being affected by this crisis. Many nations have a stake, and they should have a voice in the solution. And in addition, with countries like China and India emerging as economic powers, it only makes sense to find solutions that also include them, especially since they actually have currency reserves that can be used to help developing nations that are now being hurt by the crisis.

And one of the real concrete directives coming out of the summit is a call to reform the structure of the world financial institutions. To give these emerging nations a greater voice is something President Bush addressed in his remarks.

President BUSH: We agree that, to better reflect the realities of today's global economy, both IMF and World Bank should modernize their governing structures. They ought to consider extending greater voting power and representation to developing nations, particularly those who have increased their contributions to the institutions.

YDSTIE: In fact, Andrea, I think getting these emerging nations involved may be the single most significant thing that happened at the meeting today.

SEABROOK: I understand that this is just the first of a series of meetings of the G-20 group. But at the next one, the U.S. will be represented by a different president.

YDSTIE: Right.

SEABROOK: President Barack Obama. Did he have any involvement today?

YDSTIE: President-elect Obama was not there, though he had been invited. His response was that the U.S. only has one president at a time. But he did have representatives there, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Republican Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa who were not at the table, but they were available on the sidelines to meet with delegations from any nation that wanted to meet with them.

SEABROOK: Mm hmm.

YDSTIE: Obama's first meeting with this group is now scheduled for next spring, April 30th, 2009.

SEABROOK: We'll be watching. NPR's John Ydstie, thanks very much.

YDSTIE: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.