CERNOBBIO, Italy (AP) _ The chairman of British oil company BP PLC predicted Friday that global economic conditions will remain difficult for some time but will eventually recover due to growth in China and the rest of Asia.

Peter Sutherland, the chairman of both BP and London-based Goldman Sachs International, spoke as political and business leaders met in this northern Italian town against the backdrop of the current crisis in financial markets.

Sutherland said equity markets would recover over time, but acknowledged it was impossible to tell exactly when that would occur.

"I expect to a continued period of difficulty because of lower growth, higher inflation and credit markets - but like everything it will pass," Sutherland told the Associated Press on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti Forum at the Villa d'Este on Italy's Lake Como.

"It will pass within a reasonable period of time because of continued growth in China and Asia, which are not going to fall off a cliff," he added.

Sutherland also warned against making any hasty predictions regarding commodities or the price of oil. He spoke after an off-the-record session at the weekend conference where economists clashed over whether the current rise in inflation in the United States and some European nations would be a short or long term trend.

Some economists have argued that lower oil prices - crude oil has retreated from July's record high above US$147 a barrel to around US$107 now - and a bust in the commodity boom would have a deflationary effect.

Others pointed out that central banks' interest rates in most developed economies, while high according to some critics, were in some cases lower than current annualized inflation. That creates negative real interest rates, which could encourage consumption and fuel an inflationary cycle.

Another issue that occupied delegates was whether the recent rally in the U.S. dollar was just a blip or a new trend that could fuel U.S. exports.

The annual gathering at Lake Como is the first since the credit crunch dried up money markets late last summer, leading to turbulence on other financial markets and putting major economies like the United States and several European countries, including Britain, on the path to recession.

Billed as a "mini-Davos" after the annual conference held in Switzerland, the event is being attended by leaders including President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy, President Shimon Peres of Israel, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

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