G8 leaders set to struggle on trade, tax and Syria
Leaders of the 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-EU 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 anti-capitalist 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 European Union -- 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 industrialised 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.
British officials said the Syria session at the G8 would focus on getting a political process "off the ground", the sequence for a transitional administration and on "how to get the US and Russian positions to converge."
A German government source said the G8 was a chance to talk to Putin "who has a special responsibility as weapons supplier (to Assad)."
The goal remained to "gather everybody, including all Syrian parties, at a conference in Geneva", the source said.
Counter-terrorism will also feature with Britain pushing for a commitment that ransoms will not be paid in the event of hostage-taking by militants -- something it feels is not being adhered to by all the nations around the G8 table.
Britain is bringing up the issue following a hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria in January in which 37 foreign hostages were killed, including six Britons.
Security will be tight at the G8, especially after anti-capitalist protests in London this week in which police arrested dozens of people.
The Lough Erne golf and spa resort is surrounded by freshwater lakes and located eight kilometres (five miles) from the nearest town. The meeting will be surrounded by the biggest police operation in Northern Ireland's history.
Britain is deploying 8,000 officers, although many will be deployed 80 miles away in the capital, Belfast, where demonstrations are scheduled, while police in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland are also on guard.
Police fear that dissident republican extremists opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland might seek to launch an attack in Belfast.
Cameron will host Obama, Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Hollande, Abe, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the summit, while other leaders invited are from the EU, Mexico, Libya and Ethiopia.
© 2013 AFP