Finance ministers and central bank officials of the G20 countries are meeting in Sydney from 20 to 23 February. Business leaders from these countries are also attending and have separate meetings.
Amongst the usual discussions at such meetings about how to achieve greater global economic stability and faster and sustained economic growth, there are other more specific agenda issues. At the Sydney meeting these include a roundtable discussion to identify practical solutions to lift infrastructure investment. They also include discussions on how to clamp down on tax avoidance through means such as transfer pricing.
The G20 meetings of finance and business leaders take place annually. There are also annual summits of heads of government (the next being in Brisbane in November 2014).
The G20 was formed in 1999 to extend the work of the G8 developed countries to include other major developed and developing countries plus the EU. In 2008/9 it played a significant role in helping devise policies to tackle the banking crisis and combat the subsequent recession. At the time there was a common purpose, which made devising common policies easier.
Since then, the importance of the G20 has waned. Partly this is because of the divergent problems and issues between members and hence the difficulty of reaching agreements. Partly it is because, to be effective, it needs to remain small but, to be inclusive, it needs to extend beyond the current 20 members. Indeed there has been considerable resentment from many countries outside the G20 that their views are not being represented. Some representatives from non-G20 countries attend meetings on an informal basis.
The following articles discuss the role of the G20 and whether it is fit for purpose.
Janet Yellen vs. the world: The issues at the G20 finance summit Globe and Mail (Canada), Iain Marlow (20/2/14)
Turning ideas into action at the G20 Business Spectator (Australia), Mike Callaghan (21/2/14)
Boosting infrastructure investment can prove G20’s value to the world The Conversation, Andrew Elek (20/2/14)
Can the G20 ever realise its potential? The Conversation, Mark Beeson (21/2/14)
G20 has failed to fulfil its promise of collaboration amid hostility The Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/2/14)
Official G20 site
G20 Priorities G20
Australia 2014 G20
- Which countries are members of the G20? Compile a list of those countries you feel ought to be members of such an organisation.
- What are the arguments for and against increasing the membership of the G20 (or decreasing it)?
- Why is Janet Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, likely to be at odds with leaders from other G20 countries, especially those from developing countries?
- Why have the tensions between G20 members increased in recent months?
- Discuss possible reforms to the IMF and the G20’s role in promoting such reforms.
- What insights can game theory provide in understanding the difficulties in reaching binding agreements at G20 meetings? Are these difficulties greater at G20 than at G8 meetings?
- Should the G20 be scrapped?
At a cost of €1 trillion to EU states, tax evasion is undoubtedly an area in need of attention. With government finances in deficit across the world, part of the gap could be plugged by preventing tax revenues from going unpaid. Well-known companies and individuals have been accused of tax evasion (and avoidance), but part of the problem is the existence of countries that make such activities possible.
Tax havens not only offer favourable tax rates, but also have in place regulations that prevent the effective exchange of information. That is, they are able to keep the identity and income information of depositors a private affair and are not required to share that information with other governments. This means that other tax authorities are unable to demand the tax revenue from income earned, when it is held in some of these countries. This can deprive the government’s coffers of substantial amounts of money.
In 2000, the OECD produced a report naming so-called ‘uncooperative tax havens’, including Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Liberia. Since then, all nations on this list have pledged their cooperation and been removed and in a recent step, Andorra has announced a proposal to implement its first ever income tax. This move is partly in response to pressures from EU governments to tackle tax evasion. Furthermore, talks between the finance ministers of tax havens, such as Switzerland and Liechtenstein have been agreed with the aim of improving the flow of bank account information and thus combating tax evasion. The Council of the European Union said:
The decision represents an important step in the EU’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and tax fraud”
Countries, such as Switzerland (a non-EU member) are likely to find requests for information difficult to ignore, if they want to have access to EU financial markets. However, any concessions on information provision will come at a significant cost for a country that has long regarded its banking secrecy as an ‘honourable policy.
Reforming policy on tax havens is essential, not only to help tackle tax evasion and thus government deficits, but also to generate investment into countries that don’t offer such favourable tax rates. Investors naturally want to invest in those countries with low tax rates and as such, could it be that countries like the UK suffer from a loss of investment and that the only way to encourage it is to offer similarly low tax rates? International agreement is certainly needed to tackle the worldwide issue of tax evasion and at the moment, it seems as though pressure is building on secretive countries. The following articles consider this controversial issue.
Clock ticks on Swiss banking secrecy BBC News, Imogen Foulkes (21/5/13)
Andorra bows to EU pressure to introduce income tax The Telegraph, Fiona Govan (2/6/13)
Andorra to introduce income tax for first time BBC News (2/6/13)
Andorra to introduce income tax for the first time Economy Watch (3/6/13)
Swiss have no choice but to bow to US ultimatum – Ackermann Reuters, Katharina Bart> (3/6/13)
Austria out front as EU zeroes in on tax evasion The Budapest Times (29/5/13)
EU to start talks with non-EU countries on tax evasion BBC News (14/5/13)
- What is tax evasion?
- Using game theory, explain why an international agreement on tax evasion might be needed?
- When an income tax is imposed in Andorra, what will be the impact on government revenues?
- How might the labour supply incentive change once an income tax is imposed?
- How do tax havens affect investment in other countries?
- Is there an argument that countries such as the UK should cut its tax rates to encourage investment?
Paul Volcker was Chair of the US Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987. He was also Chair of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board under President Barack Obama from February 2009 to January 2011. In the webcast and articles below, he reflects on the current state of the world financial system – from regulation, to the euro crisis, to world imbalances, to the system of floating exchange rates.
He argues that global financial systems are vulnerable to breakdowns. What is needed is reform to the system, and for that there needs to be consensus by politicians, regulators and central banks.
But, in the absence of international consensus on some key points, reform will be greatly weakened, if not aborted. The freedom of money, financial markets and people to move – and thus to escape regulation and taxation – might be an acceptable, even constructive, brake on excessive official intervention, but not if a deregulatory race to the bottom prevents adoption of needed ethical and prudential standards.
Perhaps most important is a coherent, consistent approach to dealing with the imminent failure of “systemically important” institutions. Taxpayers and governments alike are tired of bailing out creditors for fear of the destructive contagious effects of failure – even as bailouts encourage excessive risk-taking.
According to Volcker, countries must be prepared to surrender some sovereignty. Policies must be co-ordinated internationally and there must be stronger regulation by international bodies, such as the IMF and stronger concerted action by global organisations, such as the G20.
Left to their own devices, in an era of floating exchange rates, countries may pursue policies that exacerbate global imbalances.
Not so long ago, we were comforted by theorising that floating exchange rates would mediate international adjustments in a timely and orderly way. But, in the real world, many countries, particularly but not limited to small, open economies, simply find it impractical or undesirable to permit their currency to float.
We are left with the certainty, however awkward, that active participation in an open world economy requires some surrender of economic sovereignty. Or, to put the point more positively, it requires a willingness to co-ordinate policies more effectively.
Volcker Urges Global Monetary System Overhaul BloombergBusinessweek (31/5/12)
Is global financial reform possible? Guardian, Paul Volcker (6/6/12)
Volcker Urges Global Financial System Overhaul After Crisis BloombergBusinessweek, Robyn Meredith and Shamim Adam (31/5/12)
- What reforms, according to Volcker, need to be implemented in order for the euro to function effectively without crises?
- What can the USA do to ease the euro crisis?
- What are Volcker’s views on the regulation of the US banking system?
- How are incentive structures in banks related to speculative activities?
- Should banks be allowed to fail?
- What financial imbalances exist between countries?
- What international monetary reforms are required?
- What light can game theory shed on the difficulty of achieving global policy co-ordination?
- Is an international system of floating exchange rates appropriate given the size of international financial flows?
The leaders of the G20 countries gathered in Pittsburgh on 24 and 25 September 2009 to discuss a range of economic issues. These included co-ordinated action to ensure the world economy maintained its fragile recovery; reforming the IMF; agreeing action on bank regulation and the limiting of bankers’ bonuses.
The following is a selection of podcasts and videos looking at various aspects of the summit and its outcomes. The first one, to set the scene, is a webcast from the IMF looking at the state of the world economy and the role of macroeconomic policy and banking regulation. There are also some articles looking at the achievements of the summit. (See here for G20 draft communiqué)
World Economic Outlook, September 2009 (video) IMF Webcast (22/9/09)
G20: Who will feel the pain and when? (video) BBC Newsnight (25/9/09)
G20 leaders meet in Pittsburgh BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
‘Little change’ in bank regulation BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
World Bank’s Zoellick on G20 Summit (video) CNBC News (25/9/09)
G20 ‘was a successful meeting’ BBC Today Programme (26/9/09)
Obama on G20 plans for financial reforms (video) BBC News (25/9/09)
Greater role for emerging powers BBC News, Amartya Sen (25/9/09)
Preventing Another Global Crisis (video) CBS News (25/9/09)
Obama hails progress at G20 (video) Reuters (26/9/09)
World map of deficits and stimulus spending
The cost of the financial meltdown: Deficits and spending BBC News
G20: Banks to be forced to double capital levels Telegraph (25/9/09)
Will tough new G20 measures work? BBC News (26/9/09)
Analyst View: G20 ends reign of G7 in Pittsburgh Reuters (25/9/09)
Leaders bury differences over bonuses to agree standards FInancial Times (26/9/09)
Same tune, different fiscal instrument on bank bonuses Times Online (25/9/09)
G20: History and fudge Peston’s Picks, BBC News (25/9/09)
What the G20 said on bonuses (and why it didn’t say much at all) eFinancialCareers (27/9/09)
Hamish McRae: G20 communiqué signals transfer of power to the emerging world Independent on Sunday (27/9/09)
The G20 fantasy Guardian (27/9/09)
- Explain the issues faced by the G20 countries.
- To what extent is trying to reach international agreement on co-ordinated action a prisoner’s dilemma game? Is it, nevertheless, a positive sum game?
- What was agreed at Pittsburgh and to what extent will it lead to action as opposed to being mere rhetoric?
- The G8 is effectively dead, having being replaced by the G20, plus Spain, The Netherlands and various international bodies, such as the IMF. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this move?