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UK denies favors some G20 states over others

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain, hosting a summit of G20 finance ministers this weekend, on Friday sought to play down a document which showed the government treating some countries as more important than others in the group.

The Financial Times said it had obtained a confidential tender issued in December by the government to supply public relations services for the London G20 leaders summit in April, which identified 11 countries as the top priority.

British officials did not deny the existence of the document but sought to play down its importance.

“This list in no way represents a hierarchy of our political relations with those states,” a foreign office spokeswoman said.

The tender focused on 11 high priority states -- the United States, Japan, Germany, France, China, India, South Africa, South Korea, Brazil, Italy and Saudi Arabia, the newspaper reported.

The European Commission, which represents the European Union, was also included, the FT said. Australia, Russia, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina and Turkey were relegated to a G20 “B” list.

The report risked embarrassing Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is hosting the summit of G20 leaders on April 2, seen as vital in efforts to pull the world out of a downturn caused by the credit crisis and in boosting Brown’s poor domestic poll ratings.

When asked if Brown had an “A” and “B” list for the G20, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “No, he doesn’t.”

A foreign office spokesman added:

“This was a very indicative list and based on the prevalence and scale of well-developed non-governmental organizations, media, civil society, academia, trade unions and non-traditional actors like sovereign wealth funds, not on how objectively important or not each country and its government were, either to the UK more widely or in a G20 context.”

The report came ahead of the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in southern England, which is expected to do the groundwork for the leaders’ meeting.

Global policymakers are under pressure to commit to firm action to stave off an economic slump and to clean up the financial system and the EU and others have signaled they could stump up funds to boost the International Monetary Fund.

Brown has also been pressing cash-rich states such as China and Saudi Arabia to boost the Fund’s coffers to give it more power to help struggling economies -- a key demand on Brown’s G20 agenda.

Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Patrick Graham/Keith Weir