Outlook: Economic agenda

THE TWICE-YEARLY meetings of the G7 finance ministers and IMF are notorious for the snail's pace at which the policy agenda progresses. Third World debt relief, the issue that is top of Gordon Brown's list of priorities this weekend, has been rumbling along for most of this decade. Likewise, reform of the IMF has been on the agenda since 1994, when the Mexican crisis sorely exposed the organisation's limitations.

The next week could be different. The Chancellor regards it as a crucial meeting for his ambitious debt-relief package. Other G7 countries have already enjoyed the benefit of favourable headlines about the initiative, so the pressure on them to pay up has abated. Mr Brown has to make sure they do.

Similarly, a year on from the height of the global financial crisis, the time has come to look up from the blueprints and start the brickwork for the new international financial architecture. The new body bringing together the G7 and major developing countries, currently known as the G-X, must be brought into being. If the Chancellor gets his way the IMF's Interim Committee, which he now chairs, should also be put on a firmer footing with more say over the Fund's policies.

In addition, the complex issue of "bailing-in" the private sector in future crises must be urgently addressed. This will increase risk and perhaps curtail future investment, but observers of the 1997-98 crisis might argue that is no bad thing. These measures do not add up to radical reform, but they do make it likely that the shape of the international financial order will be different, and improved. At long last there is some prospect of real progress.