MANCHESTER, England, Sept 11 (AFP): Britain's finance minister, Gordon Brown, has urged his European Union counterparts to push ahead with economic reform so the bloc can compete with the booming economies in Asia.
"Asia will surpass Europe in the coming 20 years," Brown warned during two days of informal talks between the ministers in Manchester, northern England, which ended Saturday.
"There is a temptation to believe that this is a race to the bottom. All the evidence I have is that these countries are in a race to the top," he said.
Using discussion on the issue of globalisation, Brown launched a major assault on protectionism, and called for deeper reform and greater investment.
"We are agreed today that to both equip the European economy for the long term challenges of globalisation and to address the pressure that arises from recent world events, greater flexibility in our economies is of the essence," he said.
"US growth has been 50 per cent higher than Europe's over the past 10 years," he said, and noted "growing competition from China, India and Asia generally."
Britain has made free-market reform a pillar of its six-month EU presidency, and believes it is the only way to compete with Asia, where China's economy is expanding at almost 10 per cent and India is growing by seven per cent.
The EU economy is expected to increase by 1.5 per cent this year.
Brown's offensive comes as France prepares a list of sectors in which it would have the right to ban foreign takeovers, and just after southern European countries tried to restrict the entry of Chinese textile products.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, along with experts and industry leaders invited by him to speak to the ministers, claim the only way forward is to put innovation at the centre of Europe's economic agenda.
"For Europe to emerge as a winner from globalisation, we must put knowledge and innovation at the centre of our growth agenda." said Patrick Cescau, the chief executive officer (CEO) at Unilever.
"Europe needs a stable, pro-competitive economic outlook, coupled with a willingness to be innovative at the micro level and consider measures which will give industry more flexibility," added Arun Sarin, CEO at Vodafone.
"If we can achieve this balance then we will be well placed to meet the challenges before us and deliver growth and prosperity in Europe," he said.
Brown himself said: "The only way we have to compete is by moving in the high value services, high tech industries."
He also received the backing of European economic and monetary affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who, in a letter sent to the Manchester meeting, played down concerns about greater free trade.