(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with President Lee's comments at working dinner, anti-G20 protests, other details; CHANGES headline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak asked fellow leaders of the Group of 20 major economies Thursday to move toward substantial agreements on promoting sustainable and balanced global economic growth, as they opened a two-day session in Seoul.
"Let's take one more step forward and come up with a concrete plan and accord for international cooperation at the Seoul summit," Lee said, chairing a working dinner at the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul. "The entire world is paying attention to the G-20 Seoul Summit."
Lee made the remarks, formally declaring the start of the summit, followed by introduction of agenda items.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), also briefed the other participants on the condition of the global economy.
The G-20, launched two years ago to cope with a financial meltdown fueled by the collapse of U.S. investment giant Lehman Brothers, now aims to map out concrete action plans for the "strong, sustainable and balanced growth" of the world economy.
Officials said the Seoul summit, the fifth G-20 session and the first to be held in Asia, will be a watershed for the fate of the nascent premier forum for economic cooperation.
Under the theme of "Shared Growth Beyond The Crisis," the meeting, arguably the largest diplomatic event to take place in South Korea, brings together the heads of state from the 20 industrialized and emerging economies, including the U.S. and China, in addition to the five special guests -- Malawi, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Singapore and Spain -- and the chiefs of the U.N., the OECD, the IMF and four other international organizations.
The participants plan to review the implementation of agreements at the previous rounds in Washington, London, Pittsburgh and Toronto, and also draw up a long-term vision for the future global economy, Seoul officials said.
A sticking point is the trade imbalance among the member states deepened by competitive currency devaluations. China's policy of curbing the rapid appreciation of its currency, the yuan, to boost exports is at the center of the row.
Lee earlier said the exchange rate issue will top the agenda of the G-20 summit along with reform of the IMF, a global financial safety net and the development of poor nations.
He held out expectations for a summit deal on the currency issue after the G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors agreed to pursue market-determined exchange rate systems and refrain from devaluation of currencies in their preliminary negotiations last month in South Korea's ancient city of Gyeongju.
But a further agreement on the sensitive matter in Seoul is not guaranteed. Despite days of talks here, the G-20's financial officials failed to narrow differences over detailed measures to follow up on the Gyeongju accord and passed further negotiations to the summit.
The U.S. wants to limit current account surpluses and deficits to 4 percent of the gross domestic product, but some other countries such as Germany and India are against setting such numerical targets.
Beijing has hit back at Washington over its decision to pump US$600 billion into the U.S. economy in a policy called "quantitative easing."
The leaders will have plenary sessions throughout Friday at the main summit venue, the Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX), in southern Seoul and the South Korean president is scheduled to read out a joint communique, or Seoul Declaration, to summarize the outcome.
Lee, meanwhile, had a series of one-on-one talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Hu Jintao for discussions on the G-20 agenda items and discussed other issues of mutual concern.
He also met bilaterally with Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva.
South Korean labor and civic groups staged anti-G-20 protests in downtown Seoul. Organizers said about 10,000 people, including foreign activists, joined the rallies and street march, while police put the number at 3,500.
They issued a resolution claiming that a way out of the economic crisis is to halt neo-liberal globalization policies. Their demonstrations were largely peaceful and there were no arrests, police said.
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