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Major emerging countries seek to unite at G-20 summit

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Leaders of major emerging economies, facing slower growth and volatile financial markets, sought to present a united front ahead of the G-20 summit here.

But can they make a forceful case for some action or a strong statement from the larger Group of 20 when the emerging countries themselves don’t share the same level of concern?

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After a nearly hourlong meeting Thursday, the heads of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS -- stressed in a joint statement their concerns about the unintended harmful effects of policy actions taken by central banks in the developed world.

“The eventual normalization of monetary policies needs to be effectively and carefully calibrated and clearly communicated,” the statement read, a reference to an eventual withdrawal by central banks, notably the Federal Reserve, of extraordinary easing of money after the financial crisis.

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Since Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke in May began signaling plans to reduce the central bank’s bond-buying stimulus program, currencies and stocks of some emerging markets have tumbled as investors have shifted funds back to advanced economies in anticipation of rising rates and higher yields there.

The capital outflows have had a particularly nasty effect on India, whose currency is down more than 23% against the dollar since May. Yet there’s been little impact to markets in Russia or China, which doesn’t let its currency trade freely and has tighter controls on the movement of capital. Brazil and South Africa have been in between.

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Nobody is expecting the Group of 20, which represents advanced and emerging countries, to make specific policy recommendations for central banks. After all, the Fed’s interest is the health of the U.S. economy and is accountable to Congress, not the G-20. And Bernanke has argued that policies that help make the U.S. economy stronger are good for the global economy as well.

Still, some of the BRICS may be looking for a strong statement from the G-20 that central banks should not only consider the larger impact of their actions, but make sure their policies are well-communicated and even coordinated.

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Sujatha Singh, India’s foreign secretary, insisted that despite differences in impact being felt by emerging countries, the BRICS were together on this issue.

“We’re all on the same page,” Singh told reporters at a G-20 briefing Thursday.

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Yet comments during the day from Russian officials suggested that, although they empathized with India and others struggling with capital outflows, their economic interests were on other matters.

Ksenia Yudaeva, an economist and G-20 “sherpa” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the underlying problem behind the volatility was “weak fundamentals” of some emerging countries.

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And Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, focused his remarks concerning the BRICS meeting on the group’s concern that the G-20, notably the United States, has dragged its feet in reforming the governing structure of the International Monetary Fund.

A top Chinese official, meanwhile, said market volatility in emerging markets -- and how to respond to it -- would be one of many items for discussion at the G-20 meeting.

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Zhu Guangyao, vice finance minister, said the BRICS had completed talks on establishing a $100-billion reserves arrangement to help economies facing financial pressures, but that details haven’t been worked out yet.

“In the face of the current economic conditions of the world, cooperation of the BRICS will play an important role,” he said.

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But Zhu also said it was up to the individual nations to respond to the sell-off in their markets. “Each country needs to deepen the reform of their economic structures,” he said.

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