G20 finance heads wrap up Riyadh meeting overshadowed by virus outbreak

European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni speaks during a news conference at the end of the meetings of Finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 23 February 2020. [Yahya Arhab/EPA/EFE]

Finance leaders of the world’s top 20 economies wrapped up their two-day meeting on Sunday (23 February) in Riyadh that was dominated by growing concern over the widening fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

The Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank heads faced a sober presentation by the International Monetary Fund, which predicted the epidemic would shave 0.1 percentage point off global growth.

As the delegates wrapped up their meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying that Beijing will step up policy adjustments to help cushion the blow on the economy from the outbreak.

“The outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia will inevitably have a relatively big impact on the economy and society,” Xi said, adding the impact would be short-term and controllable.

China was represented at the G20 meeting by its ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as senior officials stayed away due to the growing crisis over the virus.

The EU was represented by Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Economy.

The epidemic, which originated in China has since spread to nearly 30 countries and territories.

South Korea raised its infectious disease alert to its highest level on Sunday, while a third passenger from a virus-infected cruise ship in Japan died.

“In our current baseline scenario, announced policies are implemented and China’s economy would return to normal in the second quarter. As a result, the impact on the world economy would be relatively minor and short-lived,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Saturday.

“But we are also looking at more dire scenarios where the spread of the virus continues for longer and more globally, and the growth consequences are more protracted,” she added.

In a draft G20 communique seen by Reuters, the finance leaders clung to their upbeat projection of a modest pick-up in global growth despite the outbreak.

The latest version gives less prominence than an earlier version to the outbreak as a growth risk, saying only that the G20 would “… enhance global risk monitoring, including the recent outbreak of COVID-19”, the medical name for the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

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