SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- Top executives of the world's 120 richest companies urged vigorous but careful efforts to promote free trade and investment Thursday as leaders of the Group of 20 major economies opened a two-day summit here for discussions on how to tackle the global economic downturn.
The call came as part of 68 recommendations for G-20 leaders the corporate leaders reached here at the end of their unprecedented business summit with the world's most influential political leaders.
"Today in Seoul, we engaged in a rich exchange of views both among ourselves and with G-20 leaders and policymakers," said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO of leading global food company Nestle, at a joint press conference also attended by 11 other conveners of working groups.
In a joint statement released at the end of working group meetings, the business CEOs urged G-20 leaders to "roll back protectionism at least to where it was at the start of the global financial crisis" and put trade and investment permanently on the agenda of the G-20 summit.
The summit of G-20 leaders was to get underway shortly after the end of the G-20 business summit here in Seoul.
The rare meetings between business and political leaders began earlier Thursday following an opening plenary session of the G-20 Business Summit, where South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stressed the importance of the role of business in overcoming the global economic downturn.
"It is true the public sector has led the economic recovery through increased spending and other means, but there are limits to what governments can do," Lee said. "And that is why I believe eventually the business sector has to help create new engines of growth if we are to completely overcome the global crisis and achieve sustainable growth."
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaks at the opening plenary session of the Seoul G-20 Business Summit on Nov. 11. (Yonhap)
Nine other heads of state, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, joined the business summit to personally discuss various global issues, including employment and financial market reforms and environment, with the heads of leading global companies.
British Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the importance of such exchange between business and political leaders of the world.
"All of the work we do is nothing unless it encourages businesses to grow and employ people. We want global growth, but you are the people who will deliver. Help us achieve those goals," the British premier said in the closing plenary session of the G-20 Business Summit.
The business leaders responded positively, calling for self-imposing measures to reform the financial market, the origin of the global downturn that broke out in 2008 and triggered the launch of joint efforts by G-20 leaders to overcome the crisis.
"New standards for banking regulation and supervision must be sufficiently strong and responsive, while still encouraging growth and financial innovation," the joint statement said.
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, earlier pointed out the danger of trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach while also stressing the importance of "well thought-out rules" and simple ways to implement them.
"Economic regions might work seriously for a common approach to foreign direct investment. At this stage, however, the world is too diverse for a common (approach) as nations face a range of development challenges," he said while attending the first session of a working group on trade and investment.
Peter Sands, CEO of Britain's Standard Chartered Bank, urged G-20 leaders to give additional consideration to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) while trying to devise up regulatory reforms for the global financial market.
"We all come from large companies, but the situation for SMEs, though they are the most powerful source of job creation in most countries, (is different) and SMEs could get badly affected because they are the most vulnerable part in terms of access to the finance system," Sands told the joint press conference.
"Policymakers must think carefully so we don't have unintended consequences."
Conveners of 12 working groups at the Seoul G-20 Business Summit hold a joint press conference at the end of the summit on Nov. 11. (Yonhap)
The G-20 leaders sought as much as business leaders to make the first G-20 business summit meaningful and beneficial for both sides.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while hosting a luncheon for the participating CEOs, reiterated her call for efforts to reduce excessive current account imbalances, though she noted it was useless to set a numerical target.
"We must work consistently for the goal of achieving sustainable growth of the world economy and we must resolve the issue of current account imbalances through such growth," she said at the luncheon.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, speaking to an infrastructure working group, sought to better understand what companies want from the government, asking group members "what more can and should governments do to facilitate collaboration and partnership with business."
Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for strong, coordinated global efforts to fight climate change in a meeting with a working group on green growth, while the Argentine president urged strong reforms in the financial market in a meeting with a financial working group.
President Lee said the recommendations from the corporate leaders will provide the base of discussions among the G-20 leaders when they begin their two-day summit later Thursday.
"We, G-20 leaders, are hoping to work together with all of you while closely listening to your advice and recommendations that come from your experience in the real market," he said.