LONDON: Leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) nations meet in Northern Ireland next week determined to crack down on tax evasion and boost global trade, while seeking to push Russia to help find a political solution to the Syria conflict.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has made trade, tax and transparency his priorities for the summit on Monday and Tuesday at the exclusive Lough Erne golf resort.
But progress is uncertain in many key areas: France is holding up a US-European Union free trade pact, while world powers are struggling to arrange a peace conference on Syria and are deeply divided on arming the rebels.
A huge security operation will be in place at the scenic lake-ringed venue to protect world leaders including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin from anticapitalist protests or even Irish dissident violence.
Cameron himself admitted that the biggest prize to be won from the G8 summit—the start of formal negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and EU—is “hanging in the balance.”
France wants its cherished audiovisual industries protected from any such deal between the world’s biggest trading blocs. EU nations will try to break the deadlock at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday.
“Discussions are ongoing on both sides of the Atlantic and we’ve got to find ambition and political will to do this,” Cameron said, adding that it could “inject 100 billion euros [$133 billion] into the global economy.”
Recent trade spats between the EU, Japan and China are also likely to come up during the discussions between the leaders of the Group of Eight top industrialized nations.
Japanese premier Shinzo Abe will be at the summit to defend his big spending and ultra-loose monetary policies, known as “Abenomics.’
Cameron, whose political position at home is increasingly precarious, will be hoping to make more progress on sweeping deals to tackle global tax avoidance.
Following criticism of multinationals including Google, Amazon and Starbucks for their tax schemes, Britain also wants transparency on who owns companies, where they earn their cash and where they pay tax.
Syria will feature heavily following the US government’s announcement on Thursday that it would provide military support to rebels after finding evidence that chemical weapons had been used against them “on a small scale.”
Cameron is seeking to set the tone during pre-summit talks with Putin at Downing Street on Sunday. French President Francois Hollande is also due to meet the Russian leader, who is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally.
The focus had been due to be on a hoped-for peace conference in Geneva. But it now looks set to be dominated by the divisive issue of supplying arms to rebels following the shift in US policy and the lifting of an EU arms embargo last month.