G20 commitment to fiscal targets vague but 'sufficient': Flaherty

G20 countries reaffirmed their commitment Friday to specific fiscal targets as a way for governments to achieve economic growth, but Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, says he had hoped they would do so in "stronger" language.

Finance ministers of 20 major economies warp up meeting in Washington

Bank of England governor Mervyn King, left, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, centre, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew during a photo-op at a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington. G20 nations committed to establishing fiscal targets as a way to spur eocnomic growth. (Yuri Gripas /Reuters)

Although the G20 countries reaffirmed their commitment Friday to specific fiscal targets as a way for governments to achieve economic growth, Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, says he had hoped for "stronger" language.

"Quite frankly, the language could've been stronger, but it's sufficient to move this forward of in terms of fiscal strategy to the St. Petersburg summit," he said of the group's official communique following a G20 finance policy meeting in Washington.

Flaherty said the specifics of the intended targets will be discussed at the next G20 leaders summit in Russia in September.

"I think these are desirable objectives, that is, to have hard targets," Flaherty said. "We will agree on the strategies by our next meeting. So, there is more work to be done in terms of the targets."

U.K.'s downgrading a sign of fragile recovery

The issue of individual countries setting fiscal targets was raised during the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010

According to the communique Friday, the finance ministers and central bank governors of the world's major economies believe that the global economy is improving but still remains vulnerable.

"The recovery remains uneven and is progressing at different speeds with emerging markets experiencing relatively strong growth, the United States demonstrating a gradual strengthening of private demand, and the recovery in the euro area as a whole yet to materialize," said the 16-point document.

"Policy uncertainty, private deleveraging, fiscal drag, impaired credit intermediation, and a still incomplete rebalancing of global demand continue to weigh on global growth prospects. Medium-term challenges are also present in many economies, including those related to fiscal sustainability and financial stability."

The fragility of the economic recovery was underlined Friday by the downgrading of Britain's credit rating by a second ratings agency in three months. FitchRatings downgraded the U.K. one notch from its top AAA rating to AA+, saying private and public sector deleveraging and the eurozone crisis were primarily responsible for the country's weak economic growth and higher than projected budget deficits and debt.

Growth remains modest

Flaherty said the G20 countries also agreed Friday that now is not the time to be passive about economic policy.

"Almost five years after the onset of a financial crisis, there has been some progress, but global economic growth remains modest. We cannot be complacent," he said.

"We must remain focused on delivering on our commitments, and promoting jobs and economic growth. We certainly, collectively, want to reduce uncertainty and build confidence."

Flaherty said the financial policy-makers also agreed that currency is the responsibility of the central banks and should not be tinkered with by governments.

Although the finance minister wouldn't specify whether or not the comments were directed at any particular country, Japan has been criticized recently for loosening its monetary policy and stopping deflation, in turn, depressing the value of the yen.

"There were general discussions about currency, and Canada maintained its position that we believe in free trade in currency. That is, we believe in market currency and markets determining the value of currency," Flaherty said.

"The G20 did reiterate its commitment to moving to market-determined exchange rates, and our commitment together, to avoid protectionist measures — that is, in fact, a hallmark of the G20."

Flaherty added that the ministers also held a "substantial amount of discussions" on the use of quantitative easing by various countries but would not provide more specifics.

The minister was scheduled to attend a second meeting Friday in Washington with the International Monetary Fund.