Four sober steps on the road to recovery

Nothing defined Davos 2009 quite like Goldman Sachs's decision to cancel its party. This year was decidedly not business as usual for the annual gathering that has exemplified confidence in the power of global economic integration. This year, instead of toasting a growing global economy, delegates to the World Economic Forum faced the first contraction in global trade since 1982 and a liquidity crisis that threatens to choke off a huge slice of the international investment that drives the global economy. For a decade Davos has presided over relentless globalisation. This year it was staring de-globalisation in the face.

Davos was in a sober mood, as it should have been. A bite or two of humble pie with respect to what went wrong in financial markets and their regulation was the minimum required. Goldman Sachs was right to leave the champagne in its crates. Instead, the talk was of how governments and businesses can ensure that protectionism and financial mercantilism do not push the global downturn into something much worse. Davos came back repeatedly to four broad problems looking for solutions. We now need to turn that growing consensus into an agenda that allows the London summit of the G20 in April to take forward a radical rethinking of global economic governance.

First, a commitment to global fiscal stimuli as necessary and a global commitment to maintaining levels of public investment rather than retrenching. Both of these things need to be done with the greatest possible degree of international co-ordination, so that stimulus packages reinforce each other.

Second, an overhaul of global accounting and prudential standards, especially for the valuation of long-term assets and rules for off-balance sheet vehicles that hid debt from scrutiny. Standards for disclosure must be reformed so that investors and regulators have complete clarity on the investment activities of firms. The credit agencies that police and assess these risks need to be refocused on that work and themselves be subject to the toughest international standards.

Rather than driving securitisation out of markets, we have to drive it into the daylight - with much greater transparency and due diligence requirements. This should include a review of the capital or other prudential requirements for firms trading in derivatives.

Third, a renovation of regulatory regimes for global finance, including a new, wider mandate for the Financial Stability Forum to act as a counsellor, and a stronger role for the International Monetary Fund in assessing global financial risks and acting as an early warning system for governments.

Along with a real boost to its resources, the IMF should be charged with driving multilateral co-operation to target global imbalances, including that between the US deficit and China's huge surplus. The World Bank's capacity to provide trade finance or lend to developing countries should also be increased.

As this implies, the IMF and the other international economic institutions need to adapt to reflect the growing weight of the emerging economies. Chinese and Indian firms routinely make their presence felt in Davos: their governments can rightly expect a greater say in the management of the global economy.

Regulatory regimes also need to be flexible enough to cope with cyclicality in markets. Above all, this means making sure that rules reflect the need for capitalisation standards that cool off excessive lending in the upswings and free up funds for lending in the downs. These must be agreed globally.

Finally, trade. Both politicians and businesses have to be utterly clear that the solution to the contraction in global growth is not protectionism or a reversal of global economic integration. This does not have to be as simple as the erection of new tariffs. The decision by globally active banks to withdraw lending from their international operations can be just as damaging to the dynamic that drives long-term global growth.

Economic openness is the engine that will power the global economy in the upturn. Protectionism may appear to treat the symptoms of economic downturn, but it is also the poison that prevents a full and fast recovery. With that in mind, leaders at the London summit in April should agree to do everything they can to complete a new Doha world trade deal, locking all tariff barriers in the global economy at today's levels or lower, and providing an insurance policy against future protectionism.

Davos prides itself on its global perspective and capacity for leadership. Implemented in full, this is an agenda that would reshape the world economy in a way that would preserve the benefits of globalisation, renew global governance for a new economic age and show that we are capable of learning the lessons of the credit crunch. If Davos was subdued this year, it is because it could not have more serious work to do.

Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform of the United Kingdom. He was EU Commissioner for Trade, 2004-08.