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Britain's Brown warns US against protectionism

Britain's Brown warns US against protectionism

Britain's Brown warns US against protectionism

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a...


WASHINGTON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on Americans Wednesday to look up from their own tumbling financial markets to see a world gripped by an "economic hurricane" that could be turned around with U.S. help.

In a formal address to a Joint Meeting of Congress, Brown asserted all is not bad. He predicted that the global economy could double in size over the next 20 years as billions of people move from being producers to consumers.

This ballooning market, Brown argued, presents unprecedented opportunities, so long as governmental leaders understand that their economic policies are felt all over the world.

"Should we succumb to a race to the bottom and a protectionism that history tells us that, in the end, protects no one?" Brown said to members of the House and Senate gathered together for his talk. "No," he declared.

"We should have the confidence that we can seize the opportunities ahead and make the future work for us," Brown added.

The prime minister's address, attended by the customary parliamentary procedures and introductory niceties so well known to Congress, was the first by a foreign leader since President Barack Obama took office. It came as both Brown and Obama struggle to increase investor confidence and repair damage to markets battered by the U.S. housing crisis.

It also came as Brown, who trails behind the conservative opposition in British opinion polls, was looking for his own political boost. Supporters had hoped his appearance this week with the popular U.S. president and plans to lead an international economic summit next month would help shore up support for the prime minister.

Brown's remarks were greeted with thunderous applause by U.S. lawmakers assembled in the cavernous House chamber. Following the speech, Brown was embraced by Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., whose father Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., had been awarded honorary knighthood by Britain.

Throughout his speech, Brown spoke of Americans' optimism in the face of tough times, with nods to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Ronald Reagan, as well as to Obama. On Jan. 20, when Obama took office, Brown said that billions of people looked to Washington "as a shining city upon a hill," invoking a famous Reagan line.

Brown referenced President George W. Bush once, noting his work on Middle East peace talks. In declaring a new era of trans-Atlantic relations, Brown took a swipe at Bush's defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who once branded European critics of the Iraq war as "Old Europe."

"There is no old Europe, no new Europe," Brown declared on Wednesday. "There is only your friend Europe."

In light of this renewed relationship, Brown said, the U.S. and Britain should work together to reduce interest rates worldwide and help emerging markets rebuild their banks. He said the international community must also agree to new standards for the banking system that would improve accountability and transparency.

"Just think how each of our actions, if combined, could mean a whole much greater than the sum of the parts," he said.

Brown was laying the groundwork for a G-20 economic summit of advanced and developing nations meeting in London next month. The summit, which Brown is chairing, is critical for improving global economic confidence as well as Brown's political prospects.

Brown had met privately with Obama earlier in the week at the White House, where the two discussed the economy and the war in Afghanistan. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he did not know if Obama saw Brown's speech to Congress, but added that the president believes the two countries share a "very special relationship" and "face many common challenges."

Despite a warm reception in Washington, Brown's remarks drew swift rebukes back home. Vince Cable, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Britain's third party, said the prime minister should be focused on domestic problems rather than trying to win favor with Americans.

"The prime minister spent over a decade actively promoting a financial system devoid of morality and cuddling up to the bankers who have caused this crisis, so his newfound desire for moral markets smacks of hypocrisy," Cable said.

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