G20 to tackle US-China trade war, digital tax

Banners announcing G20 summit are seen in Osaka, Japan on June 5, 2019. — Reuters pic
Banners announcing G20 summit are seen in Osaka, Japan on June 5, 2019. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, June 6 — Top financial policymakers from the world’s 20 most powerful nations gather this weekend in Japan as a protracted US-China trade war clouds the global economy with no end in sight.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers gathering in the southwestern Japanese port city of Fukuoka will also tackle the thorny conundrum of how to tax huge multinational digital firms like Google and Facebook.

Policymakers are facing an increasingly gloomy outlook as turbulence from broadening trade conflicts spills into the real economy, prompting several central banks to slash interest rates or signal looser monetary policy.

Just ahead of the meeting, the World Bank slashed its global growth forecasts for this year as confidence tumbles and investment is delayed by geopolitical headwinds, such as Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The world economy is now expected to expand by 2.6 per cent this year, three tenths of a per centage point lower than its January forecast, and well below the three per cent growth seen in 2018, according to the Global Economic Prospects report.

By a quirk of the calendar, trade ministers are also meeting the same weekend in Japan but the finance ministers will be tackling the current tensions and their economic consequences, officials and analysts said.

Washington plans to press fellow G20 members to reduce trade imbalances, a senior US Treasury official said, echoing President Donald Trump’s campaign to promote US exports.

“I do expect trade will be one of the topics of conversation... in terms of trying to open trade up further and reduce some of the unfair trade practices that may exist out there, as well as the impact of the assertive tariff measures that have been announced,” said the official.

The discussions in Fukuoka will feed into the G20 summit on June 28-29, where Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to cross swords on trade amid a spiralling pattern of tit-for-tat trade tariffs.

‘Immediate crisis’

Kenji Yumoto, senior executive economist at the Japan Research Institute, said any joint statement should aim to bolster fragile sentiment.

“If they issue a communique... they should show a sense of solidarity to ease concerns that are out there and prevent a deterioration in confidence,” Yumoto told AFP.

The trade war will definitely be on the table but notoriously media-shy central bankers may be unwilling to divulge the contents of the discussions, predicted the analyst.

Tomoya Kondo, a senior economist at Daiwa Institute of Research, said that the group would probably stop short of coordinated action as it has done in the past to stem crises.

“Despite the uncertain outlook, we are not in an immediate crisis. This does not offer strong incentives for the group to issue strong messages and calls for coordinated policies,” he said.

“What is expected of Japan is to make sure that President Trump won’t become isolated and become more radical,” Kondo told AFP.

‘Broad consensus’

Ministers and central bankers will also wrestle with a global push to impose a unified tax policy on internet giants that are enjoying booming sales but are criticised for not paying fair taxes.

The OECD will present ministers with a roadmap for a new tax policy, as the G20 reportedly moves toward a tax scheme based on the amount of business a company does in a country, not where it is based.

But the United States is pushing for a broader approach that may also target European and Asian multinationals involved in sectors beyond technology.

“There is a broad consensus that the world’s existing taxation framework must be changed to suit current conditions,” said Yosuke Nakamura, researcher at NLI Research Institute.

“But when it comes to specifics, it becomes difficult to find an agreement like taxing multinational firms including the GAFA”, he said, referring to US-based Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple.

“Unless you bring the United States onboard, you cannot have any effective changes to the global taxation framework,” Nakamura added.

The G20 will also tackle a host of other pressing economic issues such as Brexit, the Chinese economy and slowing growth in Europe. — AFP

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