G8 Summit 2013: Tax, Trade, Transparency, and … Syria


With global leaders already arriving at the Lough Erne resort in Northern Ireland, the two-day talks at the G8 Summit will begin on Monday. The Group of Eight will bring together heads of state from United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, and Russia. Local authorities expect around 2,000 anti-capitalist protestors at a march scheduled for Monday. Protests are by no means unexpected at the talks, and a police force of 8,000 will guard the fenced-in golf resort.

But more important than the crowd-repelling water cannons available to the guarding force will be the diplomatic shotguns with which the congregated leaders will attempt to hit the topics of discussion as they go whizzing by. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the host of this year’s summit, set the agenda of the meeting to focus on the alliterative topics of trade, taxes, and transparency. The topics of taxes and transparency, both aimed at corporations and financial reporting, will more or less manifest themselves as one cohesive issue. Stepping up to fill the topical triad will be a completely unrelated international situation — that of the conflict in Syria.

One goal that a majority of the leaders appear to share is the reduction of tax evasion on behalf of international corporations. Apple, Starbucks, and Google are the latest to take fire for their reporting policies, which seek to hack through the swampy thicket of international tax codes in order to retain the most and pay the least. Apple CEO Tim Cook emphasized a large part of the tax problem as arising from the United States’ impractically high corporate tax rate, which floats at around 35%. For his own part, French President Francois Hollande will promote an international base tax rate with the goal of eliminating tax havens.

The heads of state also bring with them to Northern Ireland aspirations for new and more favorable trade agreements — the primary target of the protesters looking down the barrels of the aforementioned water cannons. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will fight Irish and French skepticism in his effort to achieve cheaper access into Europe for Canadian beef and pork. But while Mr. Harper peddles his pork for pork, the life and fortune of the ambitious US-EU trade deal hangs by the slender thread of French insistence that an exception be allowed for the continued protection of its ever-subsidized cultural sector. France expressed agreement to the current incarnation of the agreement last Friday, but this precarious compromise may be challenged as the trade deal undergoes added scrutiny at the summit. Meanwhile, interested American stakeholders in Hollywood have turned their attention to other concerns, notably that of dismantling of the world’s nuclear arsenal.

Reflecting the inevitable reality of international summits, global events will most certainly derail Mr. Cameron’s tightly formed agenda in favor of more heated debate. Most notably, the decision on behalf of the United States to arm Syrian rebels last week promises to place a damper on the already less-than-gleaming spirit of cooperation exuded by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who remains in unwavering support of the Assad regime. Despite recent confirmation of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens, Mr. Putin reaffirmed Russia’s efforts in “supplying arms to the legitimate government of Syria in line with international law” after meeting with Mr. Cameron on Sunday. Somehow not content with this simple defense of Russia’s stance on the conflict, Mr. Putin also found need to reference a recent bit of gruesome footage in denouncing the rebels: "One does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their organs in front of the public and cameras." While Mr. Cameron appears somewhat optimistic on a potential understanding regarding Syria at the G8, his positive attitude may be countered by more than enough pessimism among the other meeting leaders.

On closing the international tax loopholes and demanding greater financial transparency for international companies, the G8 seems ready to talk with a fair degree of cooperative spirit. Will they solve the issue? In two days, probably not, especially for an issue that is so complex both on the world stage and on the domestic level. Largely formulated prior to the opening of the summit, the US-EU trade deal is most likely to be the grand accomplishment of the summit. As for Syria, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a statement of universal disdain for the conflict that purports to be a consensus, but which actually isn’t anywhere close. Eight heads of state, two days, an uncertain quantity of topics to address, and infinite room for disagreement.