VENICE, JUNE 10 -- The leaders of the seven major western industrial countries concluded their summit here today admitting that, despite slipping global economic growth rates and serious trade and economic problems, they were unable to agree that growth-oriented policies should be pursued now.
Instead, in a long communique ending the 13th annual summit, the leaders postponed any stimulative actions until "world economic growth is insufficient."
The leaders also issued a separate declaration noting that AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, has become "one of the biggest potential health problems in the world" and urged an international program of greater public education and support for the World Health Organization to combat the disease.
The summit participants, in a political statement issued by host country Italy, also urged an end to the Soviet "military occupation" of Afghanistan and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Cambodia, an allusion to Vietnamese troops in that country. They also called for the dismantlement of the apartheid regime in South Africa and its replacement "by a new form of democratic, nonracial government."
The communique on economic issues was couched in general terms that indicated the inability of the leaders to reach substantive agreement on some key topics and policies.
Nonetheless, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III insisted that "clear progress has been made on a number of fronts" and that, on a success scale of 1 to 10, the summit rated "an 8 or 9."
"I can't think of anything we asked for that we didn't get," Baker told a news conference.
But when asked how he thought financial markets would assess the summit, Baker would only say that "maybe the reaction will be all right" as long as the markets remember that no new major initiatives had been promised.
The leaders reaffirmed the need for stability in the foreign exchange value of the dollar and other currencies. They also promised to intensify their economic policy coordination "with a view to ensuring internal consistency of domestic policies and their international compatibility."
The new coordination measures were reported yesterday to include a minimum of three regularly scheduled meetings a year of the seven finance ministers to review economic policy based on at least six key indicators: exchange rates, the trade balance, the current account (trade and services) balance, gross national product, inflation and monetary conditions.
In explicit terms, the communique warned that "further substantial shifts in exchange rates could prove counterproductive to efforts to increase growth and facilitate adjustment" -- an endorsement of the decision by their finance ministers in Paris last February to stabilize exchange rates. It marked the first such pledge by summit leaders.
In other areas, the communique: Gave its blessing to improving the global trading system by a new round of negotiations through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). It endorsed the American effort to extend the new negotiations to services and intellectual property rights, such as patents. It suggested that agreements made early could be implemented on a provisional basis before the formal conclusion of the negotiations. Pledged to refrain from further accumulation of farm surpluses, or increasing protective agricultural measures, and called on other nations to do the same. This was done to enhance the progress of a forthcoming round of multilateral trade negotiations. Endorsed the Baker strategy for reducing the Third World debt, supplemented by a "menu" of alternatives to regular bank loans for middle-income debtor countries and "enhancement" of lending by international institutions, especially the World Bank. Said consideration should be given to lower interest rates on the existing debts of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as longer repayment terms through the so-called Paris Club that reschedules official debt. The leaders also welcomed a proposal by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus, to triple the IMF's subsidized loans to these countries, from approximately $3 billion to $9 billion. But a final decision on these proposals was put off until the end of the year.
French President Francois Mitterrand and Japanese Prime Minister Yauhiro Nakasone praised the commitments on exchange rates and economic policy coordination.
Mitterrand said that agreement on the use of economic indicators, including exchange rates, to monitor international cooperation was a step toward "reference" or target zones, a form of greater rigidity long favored by the French.
"You always want more, but we are pleased when our partners make the kind of progress that was made here. We're getting close to reference zones," Mitterrand said. Publicly, the American side does not use the "reference" or "target zone" phrase to describe the process.
Nakasone, according to a spokesman, also praised the summit for approving measures to achieve greater currency stability. The Japanese leader was generally credited with personal success at the Venice summit. He not only deflected criticism by introducing a $43 billion fiscal expansion package but obtained, after a struggle, inclusion of a paragraph in the communique praising his country for offering new aid to developing countries.
On the question of economic growth, the United States and other countries had been urging Bonn to bolster its sagging economy, in part to help global prosperity.
But West Germany firmly and successfully resisted the pressure. "We are no locomotive," Chancellor Helmut Kohl said at a news conference after the summit.
When Baker was pressed today to explain the vague language about economic growth in the summit communique -- which did not repeat pledges made by West Germany last month at a meeting in Paris of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- Baker said the German commitment to take action when necessary was implied.
"If you need it, I personally have received that assurance . . . . It's simply that you don't spell out that kind of thing in the communique," Baker told a reporter.
A key paragraph in the communique says that the leaders "agree that if, in the future, world economic growth is insufficient, additional actions will be required to achieve their common objectives."
At another point, the communique says that countries with budget surpluses -- meaning Japan and West Germany -- "will design their policies to strengthen domestic demand and reduce external surpluses while maintaining price stability."
German officials said that from their standpoint, the summit turned out better than expected because the United States had backed away from several of its original bargaining positions.
For example, the United States, after pressing for implementation of the coordination process based on economic indicators, yielded to West German insistence that the details be kept secret.
Baker conceded that keeping the process secret reduces the potential for exacting compliance through public pressure, but he argued that "there is a certain degree of discipline in it, in the sense that it will trigger consultations," if a nation's performance moves out of line with its forecasts.
When it was noted that the communique drops the promise made at last year's summit in Tokyo to make "best efforts" to change policies according to the indicators, Baker said that "an indicator paper exists" covering all details of the process. In accordance with the deal made with West Germany to win approval of the process, this paper will not be published.