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G20 Summit Opens To Full Array Of Problems

British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in Seoul.

British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in Seoul.

Leaders of the world's top 20 economies look to be in for a difficult time at their summit that has opened in South Korea.

Officials preparing the summit groundwork have not even been able to agree on a formal agenda, according to summit spokesman Kim Yon-kyung. He says that will now have to be finalized over a reception and dinner later today.

The leaders have plenty to choose from. There's a tangle of issues relating to global finance and trade that need solving if there is to be a sustainable recovery from the financial meltdown of the last two years.

Centrally, there's the question of the deliberate devaluation of currencies. The United States and China are arguing over the value of the Chinese yuan, which Washington says is being kept at an artificially low rate of exchange so as to give Chinese exports a price advantage.

The United States, which runs a huge trade deficit with Beijing, wants a quick revaluation upward, which China is unwilling to make.

Nevertheless, U.S. President Barack Obama was able to keep a friendly tone when he told journalists of his bilateral talks today with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"We've been discussing a whole range of not only bilateral issues but world issues. And as two leading nuclear powers, obviously, we have a special obligation to deal with issues of nuclear proliferation," Obama said. "As two of the world's leading economies, we've got a special obligation to deal with ensuring strong, balanced and sustainable growth."

Washington has support from some European Union countries, but that now is overshadowed by complaints from Germany and other countries that the United States is itself pushing down the value of the dollar.

That's because the U.S. Federal Reserve has announced it is to pump $600 billion more money into the U.S. economy so as to stimulate growth -- and that has the secondary effect of weakening the dollar.

U.S. officials deny that the Fed's action represents intervention in exchange rates, saying the market is freely assigning value to the dollar.

Obama also held presummit talks today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and he returned to the same theme of balance in the economy.

"We are very proud of the work that we've been doing together -- as NATO allies," Obama said. "We obviously have a lot to talk about with respect to issues like Afghanistan, on economic issues, as G20 members, but also as two of the world's largest economies, making sure that we can continue with the balanced and sustainable growth that all of us seek."

'Hot Money'

The developing countries like Brazil and India have their own currency worries. Slow growth and low interest rates in the developed economies of North America and Europe have seen a flood of investment diverted to them in search of better returns.

This has sent their currency exchange rates soaring, making their own exports uncompetitive.

Making matters worse is that a lot of this capital inflow is not designed to bolster the real economy but is so called "hot money" -- capital transferred in and out of an economy for speculative gain and as such it is destabilizing.

Target countries have been increasingly erecting capital controls to act as a buffer, bringing with it the specter of protectionism -- another damaging phenomenon that the summit is supposed to consider.

Amid these problems the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is striking an optimistic note. It expects the summit to endorse a new global development strategy for poor countries. The strategy will switch the focus from aid to active support for development.

written by Breffni O'Rourke, based on agency reports