G7 pledges to avoid protectionism

The US treasury secretary says more international co-operation is needed

Leading industrial countries have pledged to avoid protectionism as they battle the global economic crisis.

Finance ministers at a G7 meeting in Italy said raising barriers to free trade would make the downturn worse.

Hours earlier, the US Congress approved an $787bn economic recovery plan that includes a 'Buy American' clause.

G7 ministers said stabilizing the world economy and financial markets was their priority. They said they would work together to support growth and jobs.

The 'Buy American' clause has raised fears that protectionism could be growing in the world's largest economy.

The world-wide downturn means many Chinese workers are also seeking jobs

But in a statement after the meeting, new US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner dismissed such concerns.

"All countries need to sustain a commitment to open trade and investment policies which are essential to economic growth and prosperity," he said.

Ministers also called for urgent reform to the International Monetary Fund, saying the crisis had shown weaknesses in the world financial system.

"We agree that a reformed IMF, endowed with additional resources, is crucial to respond effectively and and flexibly to the current crisis," the ministers' statement said.

Other points included:
Praise for recent economic moves by China;
Help for banks; and
The need for a speedy end to the Doha talks on world trade

The G7 comprises the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada.

The BBC's correspondent at the meeting says it was billed as a meeting to discuss the broad issues of the economic crisis, not to decide major policy initiatives - and that's what it was.

Britain's Chancellor of Exchequer (Finance Minister), Alistair Darling, said it was a stepping stone to a meeting in London in April of the G20 group, which also includes big emerging economies such as China and India.