ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland – Group of Eight summit participants are powerful people: the leaders of the U.S., Russia, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan, plus top officials from the European Union. But they only make promises.
There’s no actual change until the words are pursued by individual governments or other international organizations. Sometimes G-8 promises contain few details about how they’ll be fulfilled. Other times they skip over places where the leaders couldn’t agree.
With that in mind, these are highlights of the summit’s concluding statement Tuesday.
The G-8 united behind a U.S.-Russian proposal for a peace conference. But Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t budge from his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. President Barack Obama says the U.S. plans to send arms to the rebels and British Prime Minister David Cameron called it “unthinkable” that Assad could stay as a player in Syria’s future government.
Missing was any shared view on Assad’s fate or on the question of arming either side. Still, the G-8 leaders agreed that a U.N. mission should be permitted to investigate U.S. assertions that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons.
Leaders agreed in principle to move to stop international corporations from taking aggressive steps to shift business addresses and the reporting of profits across borders “to low-tax jurisdictions.”
They supported a project by the Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of mostly rich countries, to come up with an action plan for a meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers in July. The G-20 is a broader group of both rich and developing countries representing 80 per cent of the world economy. It has taken over from the G-8 as the main forum for talks on the global economy.
Skepticism abounds over tackling such an immensely complex subject. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan who has held hearings on offshore tax avoidance by profitable multinational corporations, said the measures could “strike a hammer blow” against offshore tax evasion “if carried out.”
The leaders agreed in principle that tax authorities should be told who really stands behind so-called shell companies used to avoid taxes and launder money obtained through corruption.
But the G-8 made no explicit call to create a registry of so-called beneficial owners or to make the information public.
The U.S. and European Union members agreed to open negotiations next month in Washington on a broad trade agreement to slash tariffs and other barriers that restrict exports and competition.
The full summit rejected efforts to protect domestic markets and urged “driving forward free trade” under the central role of the World Trade Organization, a forum where countries can settle their trade disputes.
HOSTAGES TO FORTUNE
The G-8 announced a clampdown on the payment of ransoms to free hostages most commonly seized in Africa. The leaders said al Qaida-linked and other Islamist extremists had collected tens of millions of dollars in ransoms in the past three years, often on the sly from the hostages’ European employers or governments.
They agreed that such payments “incentivize future incidents of kidnapping for ransom.” They agreed to seek extra U.N. Security Council backing for anti-ransom commitments by nations worldwide.
What went unsaid: Which European governments and companies have been paying these ransoms? And what is to stop them from continuing to do so?
OIL AND MINING
Often, the money that oil and mining companies pay to governments in the developing world disappears into a corrupt accounting system.
The G-8 agreed to “make progress toward” making companies report what they pay, and for the recipient governments to report what they receive from the companies for natural resources such as oil, gas and metals, to ensure that these books are balanced and money doesn’t disappear.
The idea is that disclosure will encourage governments to use the money wisely and not to let it line the pockets of government insiders.
The G-8 urged individual countries to sign up for an international effort, the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, which aims to set standards for reporting payments.
The G-8 met Libya’s prime minister, Ali Zeidan, to discuss ways of supporting democracy in the country following the overthrow of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
As a whole, the G-8 offered only rhetoric for their visitor, suggesting they could best aid Libya’s political and security development by continuing to support the U.N. mission there. But Libya did get help bilaterally from the host, Cameron, who pledged British military training for 7,000 Libyan soldiers to “take the fight to the extremists.”
G-8 statement, http://bit.ly/128YclJ