Economic problems around the globe are mounting, and there is a strong possibility of a major recession within the next year, leading financial figures today told the opening sessions of a three-day international monetary conference here.
But the international coordination that might avert or diminish the crisis seems to be stalemated, they said, despite the initiatives launched by Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and accepted by the industrial nations at the Tokyo economic summit meeting in May.
In Tokyo the seven major industrial nations had agreed to study a new method of managing the international monetary system which called for the nations to compare their economic indicators, including exchange rates. If exchange rates were found to be out of line with each other, they promised their "best efforts" to adjust their policies to get them back into line.
The Tokyo agreement was supposed to reinforce an earlier bargain made between the Group of Five nations last September at New York's Plaza Hotel to depress the dollar by intervening in foreign exchange markets.
The thrust of today's discussion was that policy disputes among the major powers make it unlikely that the Tokyo agreement will be carried out.
"The Plaza Accord now is a failure," said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Washington-based Institute for International Economics.
The Group of Five includes the finance ministers and central bankers of United States, Japan, West Germany, Great Britain and France who meet often to coordinate global economic policy. Besides the five, Canada and Italy attended the Tokyo summit.
Attending the privately sponsored conference here, whose main theme is an examination of the prospects for greater exchange rate coordination, are about 100 political leaders, central bankers, private bankers and economists from the major industrialized countries.
There was no representative of the Reagan administration at today's session. Baker and Undersecretary Richard Darman decided within the past few weeks not to attend.
At the conference today, Finance Ministry representatives from Germany and Japan indicated once more that neither country is ready to join in a coordinated move to lower interest rates in order to restimulate economic activity, as the United States has suggested.
"There is no agreement on policy" leading to coordinated efforts, said Wolfgang Roth, a member of the West German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament. Instead, Roth called on the United States to make more progress in cutting its budget deficit and added: "I do not see how the differences between the United States and West Germany can be bridged in the near future."
The situation is serious enough that the United States should be prepared to lower interest rates unilaterally in order to prevent domestic recession, said Goldman, Sachs vice president Robert Hormats and Lawrence Kudlow of Bear Stearns, both New York-based investment banking firms.
U.S. Federal Reserve Board authorities have been hesitant to lead the way on a discount rate cut, fearing it would result in a sharp decline in the dollar that would stimulate inflation.
New York Federal Reserve Bank President Gerald Corrigan, a conference participant, sidestepped any comments on prospective Federal Reserve policy, but did not dispute pessimistic assessments of the economic outlook. He noted that there had been major changes in the oil, bond and stock markets "that ordinarily would represent a powerful stimulus to the economy , but it is hard to find evidence that it is having an effect."
Corrigan, in an obvious invitation to Japan and Germany to lower their interest rates, said that "by most standards of real inflation-adjusted interest rates, you could make the case the United States is among the lowest."
Alan Greenspan, former economic adviser to President Gerald Ford, set the pessimistic tone today when he observed that the United States' economic growth rate "is barely 1.5 percent, and you have to play with the numbers to get it that high." Greenspan, who moderated today's sessions, added that "economic growth around the world is at best flat."
Other speakers cited a slowdown in Japan's economy, the growing Third World debt problem, mushrooming restrictions on trade, and declines in commodity prices among the ominous global economic portents.