The G8 meets in Northern Ireland to discuss major global challenges
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the USA and UK: eight global giants, two days, and one tough agenda. Generally thought of as the most powerful and influential countries in the world, their leaders meet once a year to address what they consider to be the most urgent of global challenges.
It's 2013, Monday 17 – Tuesday 18 June, and the G8 have met once again, with Lough Erne in Northern Ireland setting the scene. Each year the countries involved take it in turns to preside the monumental summit, and this year it was the UK's turn to shape the agenda.
Accompanying the leaders of these 8 countries were Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Comission, and Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council. The EU, although a part of the G8 since 1977, does not hold a Presidency.
So what's the story?
The G8 originally began with the finance ministers from France, West Germany, the UK and USA meeting informally in 1973 after the world suffered its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 30s. They addressed the issue of the oil price shock and looked at possible solutions. Japan entered the arena the following year.
Then in 1975 the French President took these informal discussions up a step and invited the countries' leaders to France (Italy was also added to the pack), where the first G6 was held in Rambouillet. The meeting was a great success and leaders agreed to meet annually. Canada joined the next year, and Russia in 1998.
The general structure of the G8 summit is that of a forum in which leaders enter into discussions about important global issues and challanges, and how best to approach them. One of its major goals is to "drive prosperity and economic growth all over the world".
Tax, trade and transparency – the "three T's"
This year UK Prime Minister David Cameron, as the presiding leader, put forward three main topics for the summit: fairer taxes, greater transparency and more open trade (aka: the "three Ts").
Prior to the G8 meeting Cameron wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal explaining his decision to focus on these three items.
"Today, our greatest challenge is to restore strong and sustainable growth to the world economy" he stated.
"When times are tough, some want to put the barriers up, to look inwards, and to protect themselves from the world. But Britain and America stand for a better way. We have a precious opportunity to transform the global economy—not by less openness and less free trade, but by more. And we must do everything possible to seize it."
On the issue of trade, Cameron remarked that it is not a matter of playing to a "sum-zero game", i.e. that one's loss is another's gain. "Trade makes the cake bigger so everyone can benefit" he said. Consequently a monumental deal has been put on the table at this years summit, with the hopes of freeing up the world's economy.
Trade deal making history
This unique proposal dominating trade discussions, is what Cameron has described as "the biggest bilateral trade deal in history," and amounts to setting up a global and open free trade system.
Cameron confirmed that the EU – US trade deal could be worth as much as £100 billion to the EU's economy, £80 billion to the US and £85 billion to the rest of the world. More than this, such an accordance could generate millions and millions of jobs, both across Europe and worldwide.
US President Barack Obama received the proposal and stated that the preliminary round of negotiations will commence in July in Washington DC, with hopes of concluding by the end of next year. "There are going to be sensitivities on both sides" he said, "but if we can look beyond the narrow concerns to stay focused on the big picture… I'm hopeful we can achieve [a deal]."
There seems to be a good deal of openess to the proposal from leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, remarked: "together Europe and the United States are the backbone of the world economy. Opening up that space further for opportunities for business and consumers is simply common sense."
Cameron himself is intent on pushing the deal forward. "This is a once-in-a-generation prize" he said "and we are determined to seize it."
Global tax rules
Another issue taken to the table was that of insuring the instantiation of global tax rules in order to "prevent tax evasion and aggressive avoidance, and enable governments to collect the taxes they are owed."
Cameron explained that "as we free up the world economy, we must make sure openness delivers the benefits it should for rich economies and developing countries alike. That means consistent and fair rules for the global economy. When countries open up to cross-border trade, and global supply chains, they need to know that they will see the benefits in jobs, fair tax revenues and economic growth."
The G8 came to a wide agreement on the tax issue. Each leader signed a declaration that commits "all of these countries to exchanging information on people who try and evade their taxes, on making sure that companies know who owns them, and making sure that companies can't shift their profits artificially to avoid their tax" explained British Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The group announced at the close of the summit that they have agreed to move "to establish the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities as the new global standard." Furthermore, they plan to work alongside OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in order to develop a model for achieving such objective.
The G8 plans to provide support to developing countries so that they are able to collect the tax they are owed.
On the subject of fair taxes, there was also the call among leaders for tougher tax transparency rules.
"We must fight the scourge of tax evasion by promoting a new global standard for automatic information exchange between tax authorities" said Cameron. "And we must tackle aggressive tax avoidance by encouraging better global reporting to tax authorities in both the developed and developing world; and by letting tax collectors and law enforcement find out who really owns and controls each company."
There was one point however, that particularly divided the summit: the desperate and immediate problem of what to do about Syria. All of the leaders are keen to effectuate the complete and swift removal of Assad and his brutal regime; all that is, except for Putin.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has objected and refused to budge under pressure from the others, on signing a statement that would rule out Assad as future leader of Syria. (It would be prudent to mention that Russia has been Assad's number one arms supplier since the beginning of the bloody conflict in 2011).
What they did agree on was to work together to stop bloodshed, resume peace talks in Geneva and commit to destroying and dispelling al Qaeda supporters. However not many details were provided on how they intend to go about effecting these changes.
Unfortunately the future of Assad as well as the sensitive issue of arms supplies is yet to be agreed upon.