LECCE, Italy (AP) – The Group of Eight industrialized nations began looking ahead to economic recovery on Saturday, as they considered how to unwind their massive stimulus policies while also warning it was too early to celebrate the end of the global crisis.

Acknowledging “signs of stabilization in our economies,” G-8 finance ministers tasked the International Monetary Fund with studying how best to roll back measures introduced to help the global economy once the crisis could be considered over.

But the ministers said it was still too early to shift strategies, as many economies were still stabilizing from the financial and economic turmoil, whose full impact was yet to be felt in some corners of the world.

They backed away from proposals by some countries to give the IMF until the end of the year to complete its investigation, suggesting the group agreed to a compromise. The U.S. and Britain are worried that continental Europe has not done enough to deal with the recession, while more cautious countries like Germany fret about the potential long-term risks posed by the stimulus measures.

The finance ministers’ meeting – meant to set the agenda for a gathering of G-8 heads of state next month in L’Aquila, in central Italy – was held as several months of improving economic data fueled a rally on world stock markets.

“These early signs of improvement are encouraging, but the global economy is still operating well below potential and we still face acute challenges,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told reporters after the meeting, emphasizing it was too early to shift policy.

“Economic and financial recovery … will be stronger and more sustainable if we make clear today how we get back to fiscal sustainability when the storm has passed.”

The World Bank forecast earlier this week that the global economy will shrink by 3.0 percent this year, far worse than a previous estimate for a 1.75 percent contraction.

In their communique after the two-day meeting, ministers from the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Russia and the European Union said that the “situation remains uncertain and significant risks remain to economic and financial stability” and stressed their commitment to provide any more stimulus the economy might need.

But they also said they had asked the IMF to assist with the process of outlining exit strategies from monetary and fiscal stimulus measures, like tax cuts and lower interest rates, and said such plans were “essential to promote a sustainable recovery over the long term.”

Germany has been a particularly strong critic of the lower interest rates, tax cuts and measures to boost the money supply that have been employed aggressively by countries such as Britain and the United States, warning they could stoke inflation and swell deficits.

A senior U.S. official said the best way to unwind those positions was to get growth back on track, raise employment and get credit flowing.

British Treasury chief Alistair Darling downplayed the urgency of exit strategies in the current economic climate, noting that some countries were only just beginning the process of sorting out problems in the banking sector.

“One thing we are absolutely clear about is we are not there yet,” Darling told reporters. “No one’s talking about exiting now, this is some way down the track. We’ve still got to work this through.”

The G-8 ministers also agreed on the objectives of a strategy, dubbed the Lecce Framework, to identify and fill regulatory gaps and to implement new rules to promote transparency in international business and finance.

And they reaffirmed their commitments to tighten international regulation, to refrain from protectionism and to pass the longer-term reform of international financial institutions pledged at the Group of 20 meeting in London in April.

Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said that regulations were fundamental to creating a climate of trust. He said there was a general consensus that they were needed, but added that designing a program would require some flexibility.

“We won’t all find agreement but we will need to have political compromises,” Tremonti said.

Geithner said that proposals on regulatory reform due to be outlined in the United States next week would include several international measures. The U.S. will call on foreign banking regulators to develop proposals by the end of this year to find ways to quickly resolve failures of cross-border financial firms, he said.

Addressing food poverty in the developing world and tackling climate change were also on the agenda of the meeting, held in a medieval castle in Lecce.

While ministers gathered, about a thousand anti-globalization protesters marched peacefully through the historic center of the southern Italian town in protest of the meeting, shouting slogans including “G-8, economy, lies,” and carrying banners urging debt cancellation.

There was no mention in the communique of public stress tests on major banks – Geithner had said earlier this week that he would explain the rigorous public stress tests conducted on 19 of America’s biggest banks to his counterparts.

Britain has conducted the tests, but released less detail on the results than the United States, while Germany has argued they could undermine the fledgling economic confidence.


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