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G20 talks brainstorm tactics for trade war and digital disruption

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G20 finance ministers gathered Saturday to brainstorm ways to adapt global finance to an age of trade turmoil and digital disruptions.

The central bank governors and other financial regulators meeting in the southern Japanese port city of Fukuoka also flagged risks from upsets to the global economy as Beijing and Washington clash over trade and technology.

Asked if other financial leaders attending the meetings were raising concerns over the impact on global markets and trade from US President Donald Trump’s crusade against huge, chronic US trade deficits, especially with China, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said no.

Mr Trump and members of his administration contend that the ripple effects of the billions of dollars in tariffs imposed by Washington on Chinese exports over the past year are creating new business opportunities for other businesses in the US and other countries.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney talks with Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond

But Mr Mnuchin acknowledged that growth has been slowing in Europe, China and other regions.

“I’m hearing concerns if we continue on this path there could be issues. There will be winners and losers,” he said.

The G20 officials were expected to express their support for adjusting monetary policy, for example by making borrowing cheaper through interest rate cuts, in a communique to be issued as meetings wrap up on Sunday.

Their official agenda on Saturday was focused on longer-term, more technical issues such as improving standards for corporate governance, policing cyber-currencies and reforming tax systems to ensure they are fair for both traditional and new, online-based industries.

Ensuring that governments capture a fair share of profits from the massive growth of businesses like Google and Amazon has grown in importance over the many years the G20 finance chiefs have been debating the reforms aimed at preventing tax evasion and modernising policies to match a financial landscape transformed by technology.

One aim is to prevent a “race to the bottom” by countries trying to lure companies by offering unsustainably and unfairly low tax rates as an incentive.

Mr Mnuchin said he disagreed with details of some of the proposals but not with the need for action.

“Everyone, we are now facing a turning point,” Japanese finance minister Taro Aso told the group.

“This could be the biggest reform of the long-established international framework in over 100 years.”

Some European members of the G20, especially, want to see minimum corporate tax rates for big multinationals.

France and Britain have already enacted stop-gap tax systems for digital businesses, but they are not adequate, said French finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, talks with China’s Central Bank governor Yi Gang

“For the time being there is no fair taxation of this new economic model,” Mr Le Maire said, adding that the hope is to have an agreement by the year’s end.

The issue is not confined to the wealthiest nations.

Indonesia, a developing country of 260 million with more than 100 million internet users, is also struggling to keep up.

“The growth has been exponential but we cannot capture this growth in our GDP as well as in our tax revenue,” said Indonesian finance minister Mulyani Indrawati.

Mobile banking, big data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are among many technologies that are expanding access to financial services for many people who in the past might not have even used banks.

But such innovations raise questions about protecting privacy and cybersecurity, Mr Aso said.

“We need to stay vigilant against risks or challenges,” he added.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is hosting the G20 for the first time since it was founded in 1999.

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