The world's leading industrialized nations expressed concern Saturday about Argentina's growing financial problems and urged the country to work closely with the International Monetary Fund to implement economic reforms.

In their statement, the ministers from the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan said:

"The situation in Argentina is of serious concern. Reforms of the fiscal framework encompassing the provinces, establishing a monetary anchor and improving the bankruptcy and economic subversion laws will all help to restore investment and growth."

It said these steps would raise the living standards of the Argentine people.

"We thus support the IMF and the work it is doing with Argentina," the statement said.

Argentina is in the grips of a four-year recession and staggering from a step devaluation of the peso and a $141 billion debt default, the largest by a government in history.

On Friday the government in Buenos Aires ordered a halt to all foreign exchange and banking transactions, saying it needed time to set up a plan to bolster the troubled banking system.

"We urge the Argentina authorities to work closely with the IMF to put a comprehensive reform plan into place," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

Spanish Finance Minister Rodrigo Rato, leading a delegation from the European Union to the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund, said he believed the IMF and Argentina were close to a deal that would unlock perhaps $9 billion in new IMF loans. But he said the country's provincial governments would have to better manage ballooning budget deficits.

However, French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius, who met with Argentine Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov on Friday, expressed more pessimism.

He said the Argentine government still had not met commitments it had made on economic reforms and its decision on Friday to shut down its banking system was "very worrying."

Fabius also stressed Argentina still needs to reform its bankruptcy laws as well as rein in provincial spending.

"Until now none of these points have been addressed," he said. "We have a feeling that's very difficult to advance if these points aren't addressed."