- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

PARIS, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Finance ministers from the world's richest countries agree that quickly resolving the Iraqi crisis would improve a global financial outlook darkened by war jitters, sluggish growth, and a sliding stock market, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said Saturday.

Uncertainty over Iraq "is influencing markets, and serving as a restraint to capital expenditure and equity expenditure," Snow said. "There was the expectation that once the situation resolves itself, both capital spending and equity markets would respond."

Snow's remarks follow a daylong meeting in Paris of finance ministers from the G-7, or the group of the seven riches countries plus Russia. The meeting is aimed to pave the way for the group's June summit in the French city of Evian.

While pledging to take steps to revive their own domestic economies, the group expressed optimism that global economic growth would eventually rebound.

"We remain convinced in the fundamental solidity of our economies, and their capacity to rediscover the road to a more vigorous growth," the ministers said in a statement.

Nonetheless, concerns ranging from possible war on Baghdad, to controversial U.S. plans to revive its own economy loomed over the meeting.

Snow defended the Bush administration's economic stimulus proposals, including planned tax cuts, as having a ripple effect on economies overseas. But some ministers and top banking officials remained skeptical Saturday.

Meanwhile, French Finance Minister Francis Mer argued against tapping oil reserves as a way to drive down oil prices that have surged with the uncertainty about Iraq.

"The reserves weren't put in place to play with prices," said Mer, whose country presides over the G-7 this year.

Heads of state meeting during June's Evian summit are also expected to consider new aid to African development.

France has proposed offering favorable trade and financial terms for Africa, along with assistance in fighting AIDS, and boosting healthcare and access to potable water on the continent.

"Africa needs … a transitory period, in which we all accept to partially modify the rules of international trade," Mer said, and allow Africa a chance catch up with the world economy.

Earlier this week, French President Jacques Chirac proposed a 10-year period in which Africa could benefit from favorable terms of trade. Chirac outlined his suggestion at a Franco-African summit in Paris.

The Iraqi crisis has divided G-8 members, with the United States and Britain pushing military action against Baghdad, and Russia, and France and Germany backing more time for U.N. weapons inspectors.

Relations have particularly sharpened between France and the United States.

But Snow discounted congressional proposals to slap trade sanctions on French cheeses and wines, in retribution for Paris' seeming recalcitrance on going to war. He said the matter was not even discussed with Mer, his French counterpart.

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