Sunday

19th Feb 2017

Opinion

A G8 meeting that goes back to first principles

  • Lough Erne: "Next year's meeting should be one table and one conversation with G8 leaders" (Photo: Charlie Phillips)

One year on from the Olympics, the eyes of the world will again be on the United Kingdom next summer, as we host the G8 at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland.

Some people ask: does the G8 still matter, when we have a G20? My answer is “Yes”. The G8 is a group of like-minded nations who share a belief in free enterprise as the best route to growth. And as eight countries making up around half of the world’s entire GDP, the standards we set, the commitments we make, and the steps we take can help solve vital global issues, fire up economies and drive prosperity all over the world.

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Lough Erne 2013 will be focused on three ways in which we can support the development of open economies, open governments and open societies to unleash the power of the private sector. Advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency.

First, trade. There is no greater stimulus for growth in the world economy than trade and no more important battle than the fight against protectionism. As the G8, we have a collective responsibility to drive forward trade liberalisation. I am already leading EU efforts to finalise a free trade agreement with Canada and to launch negotiations with Japan and America over the next year. I want G8 leaders to seize the opportunity of the discussion at Lough Erne to agree how we will accelerate progress across our ambitious trade agenda. To take just one example, the EU and US together make up nearly a third of all global trade. And an ambitious deal between the two could provide an enormous boost to jobs and growth adding over £50 billion to the EU economy alone.

Second, taxes. People rightly get angry when they work hard and pay their taxes, but then see others not paying their fair share. So this G8 will seek to maintain the momentum generated by the G20 on information exchange and the strengthening of international tax standards. We will look to go further including, for example, on tax havens by improving the quality and quantity of tax information exchange. And we will work with developing countries to help them improve their ability to collect the tax that is due to them too.

Third, transparency. The G8 has a long history of advances on development - and this G8 will be no different. The UK is meeting our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid from 2013 – and we will be holding other countries to account for their promises too. We will also be leading the way in the battle against hunger with a special event on food and nutrition a few days before the main meeting, to follow up on this year’s Olympic Hunger Summit.

But I believe the UK’s track record on aid gives us the legitimacy to use this G8 in a radically different way by supporting what I call the “golden thread” of conditions that enable open economies and open societies to drive prosperity and growth for all. These include the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, and the presence of property rights and strong institutions.

Transparency and accountability are vital for this. Too often, development at the G8 has been about rich countries doing things to poor countries. But at Lough Erne, we in the developed world will concentrate on issues that involve us putting our own house in order and helping developing countries to prosper. Take the issue of mineral wealth. We need to make sure that, for developing countries, this is a blessing not a curse. So the UK is leading efforts in the EU to require oil, gas and mining companies to publish key financial information for each country and project they work on. And I want this G8 to drive greater transparency all around the globe so that revenues from oil, gas and mining can help developing countries to forge a path to sustainable growth, instead of fuelling conflict and corruption.

These defining advances in trade, tax and transparency could lay the foundations of long-term growth and prosperity for generations to come. But to achieve them we also need to cut through the bureaucracy of traditional international summits.

So Lough Erne 2013 will return the G8 to its roots. The original leaders' fireside chat which inspired today's G8 gatherings took place at the Chateau de Rambouillet in 1975, organised by the then French President in response to the need to address worldwide economic problems. They held searching discussions, and issued a succinct declaration just 15 paragraphs long.

Nearly forty years on, we will go back to those first principles. There will be no lengthy communiqué. No mile long motorcades. And no armies of officials telling each other what each of their leaders thinks – or should think. Instead we will build on the approach taken by President Obama at Camp David this year: one table and one conversation with G8 leaders holding each other to account and ensuring that good intentions really do become vital actions to advance growth and prosperity across the world.

I look forward to welcoming my fellow leaders to Lough Erne and to showcasing Northern Ireland to the world as a modern and dynamic part of the United Kingdom that is open for business, with huge potential for investment and tourism.

Northern Ireland’s transformation over the last two decades was made possible by the courage of so many people across all sections of its community. Their determination and leadership has inspired the world. And we must show the same resolve to make sure this G8 delivers growth and prosperity for the United Kingdom and for the world.

The writer is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

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