Finance ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations on Saturday predicted solid global economic growth for 2006 despite high oil prices and pledged action to improve stability of the energy markets.
At their Moscow meeting where energy security took center stage, the finance ministers from the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia kicked off their main session of discussion at a breakfast meeting with high-level finance officials from rising economies -- China, India, Brazil and South Africa for informal talks on trade.
Then, the participants held close-door talks at a heavily guarded hotel in downtown Moscow within walking distance from the Kremlin, where President Vladimir Putin threw a banquet and concert to entertain the ministers a day earlier.
The first issue picked up by the ministers from the world's wealthiest nations concerned the world economy and oil, and they sounded upbeat about global growth this year although they said high oil prices could constitute a risk.
"Overall global growth remains solid and this is expected to continue in 2006. Risks remain, including high and volatile energy prices," the ministers said in a statement issued at the end of their two-day meeting.
The ministers called for further progress in "implementing policies that contribute to the gradual resolution of global imbalances and promote sustainable growth of the global economy."
They viewed "an ambitious outcome" to the Doha Development Round by the end of 2006 as essential to enhancing growth and reducing poverty, the statement said.
The ministers also urged all participants at the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting "to agree on a comprehensive package that achieves significant progress in agriculture, industrial products, services, including financial services, intellectual property, and WTO trade rules, and that addresses the concerns of developing countries, in particular the least developed countries," it said.
Russia, which took over the rotating G8 presidency at the start of the new year, has declared energy security a priority during its term. The ministers welcomed the decision to focus on energy security for the G8 summit that Putin will host in his hometown of St. Petersburg this summer.
Russia is the world's second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and provides about a quarter of the natural gas consumed in the European Union. The country has seen its state coffers swell at a time when rising demand has doubled oil prices.
G8 finance ministers reviewed the global energy outlook and pledged action to improve stability of the energy markets.
They agreed that "market mechanisms are vital to the effective functioning of the global energy system," the statement said.
"In order to improve the smooth functioning and stability of markets, we agreed to take forward work on enhancing the global energy policy dialogue between oil producing and consuming countries and the private sector," it said.
Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin told a press conference after the meeting that the participants "addressed reliable and undisputed gas shipments not only to Europe, but the United States as well."
The G8 finance ministers also warned of potential economic impact of a possible bird flu pandemic and reaffirmed their commitments to financial support for fighting the disease.
The warning came the same day outbreaks of bird flu were confirmed in Bulgaria, Italy and Greece. On Wednesday, Nigeria confirmed its first outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus in Africa.
The H5N1 virus has killed tens of millions of birds since 2003. A total of 165 people have been confirmed to be infected with the virus and at least 88 of them have died, mostly in Asia, according to the World Health Organization.
The ministers welcomed progress made at the donors' conference in Beijing in securing financial support for the fight against the disease and reaffirmed their commitments made at that conference, the statement said.
Meanwhile, the ministers voiced support for the decision by the International Monetary Fund to implement 100 percent debt relief and the cancellation of the debts of 19 countries.
They vowed to commit themselves to strengthening the systems for freezing assets, sharing information and multilateral financial tools to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.