BASEL, Switzerland — The world's leading central bankers vowed Monday to keep inflation under control as energy costs surge and food prices touch record highs due to strong demand from fast-growing countries like China and Brazil.
Sharp increases in living expenses and a spike in fuel prices caused by the Middle Eastern uprisings have policymakers worried that inflation could become a drawn-out problem.
But whereas the European Central Bank has signaled a rate hike is due soon, others like the Federal Reserve are worried that economic growth is not yet strong enough to cope with higher borrowing costs.
"There is amongst central bankers what I would say a solid unity of purpose, namely to continue to anchor solidly inflation expectations," said European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet.
He noted, however, that does not mean they will take the same decisions — Trichet last week shocked markets by saying eurozone interest rates could be hiked as soon as April.
It is mostly high-growth countries like China, which escaped the worst of the financial and debt crises, that have been tightening monetary policy in recent months.
"In our view, global growth is confirmed at a relatively robust pace, driven by emerging countries, which are dynamic, and by the confirmation of the recovery in advanced economies," he said.
"The threat of inflation is particularly visible in these emerging economies."
He spoke on behalf of 30 central bankers that meet in Switzerland every other month at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel and represent 82 percent of the global economy. The group includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his Chinese counterpart, central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan.
As chairman of the Global Economy Meeting, Trichet noted there was broader concern about rising inflationary pressures than at their gathering in January.
He said central bankers also agreed on the importance of "the progressive reduction of imbalances" — evening out some countries' large trade surpluses with others' deficits and making currency markets flexible. That has been a hot topic of debate in recent years, with the U.S. accusing China of boosting its exports by keeping its currency weak.
Trichet said the recovery from the global financial crisis is helped in large part by the dynamic expansion of emerging economies.
"It is clear that at the level of the global economy we see this positive feature, but uncertainty remains. And we consider it very important that fiscal policies would be sound," Trichet said.
He said the group did not specifically discuss the violence in Libya or the wider Middle East, though it consulted on the price of oil, commodities and food.
Oil prices swung to their highest level in two and half years on Monday as the violence escalated in Libya.
Trichet suggested that incentives to boost food and agricultural supplies could ease price increases, but did not offer specifics.
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