U.S. securities regulators floated a plan Wednesday that could require U.S. companies to switch to international accounting rules, starting in 2014, and permit others to make the switch even sooner.

The Securities and Exchange Commission voted unanimously to seek public comment for 60 days on a "road map" to move from U.S. to international accounting. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox predicted U.S. regulators likely would vote again "late this year" on whether to endorse the plan.

The plan calls for early, voluntary use of international accounting standards by large U.S. multinational firms in 2010, followed by an SEC vote in 2011 on whether to require all U.S. companies to make the switch. The decision would rest on whether key changes occur by then, including international accounting standard-setters obtaining independent funding.

Under the timetable outlined by the SEC, the switch to international accounting could be staggered, starting with large U.S. companies in 2014, followed by mid-sized companies in 2015 and small companies in 2016.

The "road map" also calls for continued collaboration between the IASB and the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board to narrow differences between U.S. and international accounting rules, and changes to educating and training U.S. accountants.

"The proposed roadmap is cautious and careful," Cox said at a public meeting to consider the matter. SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter called the plan a momentous one that shows the U.S. is serious about considering a movement toward international accounting standards.

However, Walter said the U.S. should vote in 2011 to approve the switch "if and only if" certain conditions are met by then. The plan sets seven "milestones" to be met, including obtaining an independent, stable source of funding for the London-based International Accounting Standards Board.

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