Nov 14, 2014 6:07 PM

G-20 summit opens in Australia; growth tops agenda

The Associated Press

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Australia's prime minister vowed that world leaders would deliver on an initiative to add $2 trillion to global GDP, promising freer trade and more investment in infrastructure as heads of the 20 largest economies began cementing plans to drag sagging growth out of the doldrums.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has repeatedly promised this year's Group of 20 gathering in the Australian city of Brisbane would be more than a talkfest, said the growth plans would add millions of jobs and boost global GDP by "more than 2 percent" above expected levels over the next five years.

"That is millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in extra production," Abbott said as he officially opened the two-day G-20 conference. "Yes, we want freer trade and we will deliver it. Yes, we need more infrastructure and we will build it."

"This is our message to the world: that governments can deliver, that governments can agree that the world can be better, that there can be higher jobs, higher growth and more jobs," he added.

G-20 nations, which represent 85 percent of the global economy, are under pressure to take definitive action at this year's summit, rather than simply producing a set of vague, unmeasurable goals. The International Monetary Fund has warned about a "new mediocre" for the world economy, putting renewed focus on the G-20's growth initiative.

Each country is expected to present a comprehensive plan at the summit on how they will achieve their contribution toward the $2 trillion goal, but whether the communique that will be issued at the conclusion of the gathering on Sunday will reveal any of those details is unclear. World GDP this year is about $77 trillion.

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said the group's growth strategies include 1,000 measures that will lift infrastructure investment, increase trade and competition, cut red tape and increase employment.

"While we still face economic challenges in many parts of the world, I'm optimistic our 2 percent commitment will deliver the growth the world needs," Hockey said.

But rights groups such as The Civil Society 20 group, or C20, want assurances that the poor will benefit the most from the plans, estimating that the additional growth could lift 1 billion people out of poverty if it was poured into the poorest 20 percent of G-20 households.

Before intensive talks could begin, however, leaders took time to enjoy a traditional Aussie barbecue at the state Parliament House, feasting on king prawns, oysters, lamb and pavlova, a popular meringue dessert generally served with fruit and whipped cream.

Several of the leaders' spouses visited a wildlife sanctuary where they cuddled with koalas and fed kangaroos.

Dignitaries were greeted by a traditional Aboriginal welcome ceremony, featuring singing, dancing and the solemn hum of a didgeridoo, before entering their first official closed-door meeting.

The leaders later issued a statement on the Ebola crisis in West Africa, urging countries that haven't donated to efforts to combat the disease to do so now, and to send medical teams. The group also said researchers, regulators and drug companies needed to work harder to develop vaccines and treatments.

Outside the convention center where the summit is taking place, thousands of protesters braved a scorching heat wave and a labyrinth of roadblocks to stage rallies demanding everything from action on climate change to banning Russian President Vladimir Putin from the gathering.

The protests have been largely peaceful, with only a handful of arrests. An Associated Press photojournalist saw police take two gas masks and a pocket knife out of two activists' bags before escorting them away. Knives and gas masks are on a lengthy list of banned items in the city this weekend; prohibited items also include eggs, guns, kites and reptiles.

Six thousand police officers were on duty to maintain order, many dumping bottles of water on themselves to cope with temperatures that are expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Sunday.

Tax avoidance by big, multinational companies was expected to be high on the agenda, particularly in light of the recent leak of documents suggesting that hundreds of big companies such as Pepsi and IKEA had organized tax-lowering deals with Luxembourg.

The tiny European nation's neighbors reacted angrily to the news, noting that they have had to impose harsh austerity measures on their own citizens to keep government budgets afloat following the global recession.

On Saturday, Jean-Claude Juncker, two weeks into his new job as European Commission president, faced tough questioning about his tax record as prime minister of Luxembourg for 18 years.

During a news conference on the sidelines of the G-20, he was grilled about whether Luxembourg was guilty of "picking people's pockets" while he was the nation's leader, and asked whether he could be considered a credible representative of the European Union on the issue of tax avoidance, given his ties to Luxembourg.

Juncker largely deflected the questions.


Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk contributed to this report.


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