G-20 Leaders Proved Divided on Syria, United in Efforts to Curtail Tax Evasion

Discussions over Syria at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg proved divisive. Photo: GovernmentZA for flickr

Discussions over Syria at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg proved divisive, although progress was made on updating international tax code. Photo: GovernmentZA for flickr

Leaders from around the world gathered in St. Petersburg this past week for the 2013 Group of 20 (G-20) Summit. The largest debate of the two-day meeting centered around the use of military force in Syria, discussed as a means to deter Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons. The international attitude towards the issue was divided, with the United States pushing for military action, while various other countries, chief among them host-nation Russia, cautioned against the use of force. The two countries have since reached an agreement regarding the weapons in Syria.

French President François Hollande was one of few Western leaders to support President Obama’s push for a possible strike. Hollande voiced his desire for organized support within the European community, stating, “It’s really important that the Europeans present at the G-20 are on the same page in condemning the use of chemical arms and condemning the regime that used them,” according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

However, the European Union strongly denounced the use of any military force in Syria, noting that the appropriate body to address the issue is the United Nations. Russia proved a stalwart in the UN in opposition to a strike, and its position on the Permanent Security Council grants it the power to veto such action.

Other European nations voiced their concerns over Obama’s ability to limit American military involvement to simple punitive engagement, aimed to punish Syria for what U.S. intelligence says was the use of chemical weapons against civilian targets on August 21. Regardless of its provenance, the attack resulted in the deaths of scores of civilians outside the capital city of Damascus.

“There are some who interpret this as the start of something of which we don’t know the end,” voiced the Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta.

Despite the support and resolution of President Hollande and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Laurent Fabius, the people of France remained more divided on the issue. In a poll undertaken by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) for the French news source Le Figaro, more than two in three French citizens (68%) are against French involvement in any military engagement, should an international force be assembled.

The United States and Russia have since reached a temporary, peaceful solution that would give international inspectors from the Organization of the Prevention of Chemical Weapons immediate access to the  Syrian chemical weapon stockpile.  The agreement was made on September 14 by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.  France has voiced its support for the peaceful resolution, which would place Assad’s chemical weapons under international control until they can be destroyed.  Shortly after the deal was stuck in Geneva, Minister Laurent Fabius voiced in a quote to Reuters that the draft agreement was “an important step forward,” and that France would await the U.N. weapons inspectors’ investigation before clarifying its position on Syria’s chemical weapons use. Sunday night Hollande said in an interview with TF1 that the agreement was largely a result of France’s immediate threat of military intervention. However he clarified that “the military must remain [on the table].”

A secondary, but less pressing issue on the G-20 agenda was the problem of international tax evasion. Finance ministers from all of the represented countries, as well as members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), met to discuss the exchange of tax information between nations, in an attempt to minimize the use of international borders to hide profits.

Delegates representing the eight leading world economies (G-8), including France, had met in August to pilot an information exchange system. The Group collaborated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to update tax rules, some of which dated back to the 1920s. Loopholes existed from early efforts to avoid double-taxation of companies that did business in more than one nation, but which had more recently been used to allow “double non-taxation.”

Firms under scrutiny include global players Google, Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks. The companies claim that their actions of tax-minimization are legal under the current laws – laws which the G-20 says may take up to two years to rectify due to the number of loopholes and tax havens available to multinational firms.

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