PM makes headway on action against overseas tax havens but more work needed before summit can be declared a success
There are four sorts of G8 summits: runaway successes, photo opps devoid of content; the modestly successful; and the outright flops.
Vladimir Putin has ensured that Lough Erne will not fall into that first and rarest bracket of all – the glorious example of global togetherness. Indeed, the Russian president arrived at Lough Erne seemingly content to see the cosy fireside chat turned into the sort of family bust up where heads get broken.
But as things stood on Monday the three other possibilities remained open. David Cameron was determined that the occasion would not entirely be dominated by the row over Syria, but was still some distance from being able to declare the summit a success.
That’s not to say that the prime minister will be unable to list achievements when the summit winds up on Tuesday. The problem is that his wins so far have not strictly speaking had anything to do with the G8. He didn’t need to hold a summit to get tough with the tax havens in Britain’s overseas territories and crown dependencies. And the formal launch of EU-US free trade talks could have happened any time.
In order to qualify Lough Erne as one of the modestly successful summits, Cameron needs to be able to get the G8 to move on tax. Eight years ago at Gleneagles, UK officials burned the midnight oil seeking G8 agreement on a doubling of aid. That was a simple enough demand although the talks went all the way down to the wire and lots of preparatory work had been done in the months leading up to the summit.
Action against tax havens is a tougher nut to crack all round: the issue is complex, many of the G8 countries have raised ideological or practical objections to the measures proposed, and Downing Street has left it very late to do the hard negotiating.
Cameron has two big things going for him. Firstly, the row over Syria may make the G8 keen to agree on a different part of the summit agenda. Secondly, tax has become a hot political issue for G8 leaders domestically, given the impact of the global downturn on tax revenues. Appealing to self-interest may work. It has in the past.
As things stood on Monday, Downing Street was still trying to get agreement on two key issues – whether central registers of beneficial ownerships of corporations should be public and the scope of an agreement on the exchange of tax information.
Cameron knows full well that not all G8 countries are willing to make sensitive tax information publicly available to journalists and NGOs, but believes that two or three might join the UK in backing them. It will be not be good enough if all the G8 does is commit to vague action plans with no timetables attached.
Similarly, lobbying was still underway on Monday in the hope that the G8 would include developing countries in the G8′s exchange of information deal. Some G8 countries are wary of this because developing countries lack the ability to provide information in return.
Cameron needs a breakthrough in one of these areas, and preferably both. Otherwise the summit will be seen, at the very best, as a baby step forward.
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