3Ts: Teeing up tax and land for the G8

Emma Seery

Blog post by Emma Seery

Oxfam Great Britain, Head of Development Finance & Public Services
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This year, David Cameron put two issues that matter to the poorest countries on the G8 agenda; cracking down on tax dodging that blights ordinary families around the world – especially in poor countries, and stopping unfair land deals that keep people hungry.  

On Saturday, his Tax, Trade and Transparency’ event – or 3Ts – brought together a bunch of politicians and thinkers from countries around the world to set the right balls rolling for the Summit itself. So what balls are rolling, and is there any hope of a UK G8 that delivers solutions equal to the challenges of poverty and hunger?

Saturday's event brought some good news and some bad news.

Landing a tax deal?

Let’s start with the hot topic of tax, where a G8 deal is genuinely hanging in the balance.  Oxfam started campaigning on tax this year, because the tax rules need to change so that the poorest countries can get the tax money that is fairly theirs, and so that the richest companies and individuals who are most able to contribute to society can’t wangle their way out of paying their fair share.

The good news is that the UK finally started to tackle their legacy of offshore tax havens, by getting all ten of the UK-linked tax havens signed up to a deal to share more information about who is paying what tax on their shores.  

The deal they signed up to also means poor countries can request this information, so that Burkina Faso can ask Bermuda how much tax their citizens and companies are paying there and start to spot where something is fishy and do something about it. But the bad news is, in the world of tax this is a bronze medal - cumbersome and partial deal where poor countries can petition for more information from some tax havens and rich countries.  

Meanwhile the G8 seem to be cooking up a gold medal deal for themselves where all of this information comes their way automatically, including from the biggest tax havens like Switzerland.

David Cameron also seemed to give up the possibility of G8 governments promoting more openness about whose money is where, when he announced the UK will prioritise a private list of who owns what. But you can’t sweep away secrecy with a secret list, and of course a secret list will keep poor countries in the dark.

So the G8 have a massive way to go to make sure that the real tax deal lands at the G8 on Tuesday. They have 90 minutes to talk about tax, and they need to spend every minute working out how the poorest countries will benefit, rather than looking out for their own self interest.  

If they do a gold standard deal on tax for themselves, and leave the poorest countries out in the cold, it would be a tragedy for the one in eight people going to bed hungry tonight.

A land deal too taxing?

G8 companies and investors have bought land in developing countries more than the size of the whole of Ireland since the year 2000. This land could grow enough food for 96 million people, and make a serious dent in the scandal of hunger. This is serious stuff.

At Saturday's 3Ts event, G8 country partnerships with developing countries were announced - Tanzania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Senegal among others - to start putting UN standards in place and ensure people’s rights to live on and farm their lands are protected. 

Private sector participants in the event also committed to 'embed' these standards into their practices. But despite momentum on land, there is no real prospect of the G8 taking more systematic steps to put their house in order by getting all G8 companies to be more transparent about their investments so they can be held accountable.  And equally elusive is the much-needed global Land Transparency Initiative that would mean details of all land deals are held centrally and shared so that nobody can escape the consequences of their actions.

We haven’t given up yet, and we think tax will really go to the wire.  So watch this space and follow us on twitter if you want to know what’s happening when we do.

Team G8 over and out.

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