DAVID Cameron said the moment had come to “press ahead” with an EU-US trade deal ahead of crunch talks which have left one of his key aims for the G8 summit hanging in the balance.
• Cameron wants to use the gathering to launch formal negotiations on the deal
• Vince Cable will represent the UK at negotiations in Luxembourg
The Prime Minister wants to use the gathering of world leaders in Northern Ireland next week to launch formal negotiations on the deal - potentially worth as much as £10 billion to the UK and £85 billion worldwide.
But progress depends on breaking the deadlock in talks today over France’s insistence that any agreement must include protections for its film and TV industries against American imports.
Business Secretary Vince Cable will represent the UK at the negotiations in Luxembourg, with Paris believed to be increasingly isolated over its demands that the sector be excluded from the mandate for trade deal talks.
Expressing confidence of a breakthrough, Mr Cameron told Bloomberg: “There’s enough goodwill on both sides to realise this is the moment to push ahead.”
Tax havens crack down
It came amid continued uncertainty over the progress Mr Cameron could make in another of his priorities for the G8 summit - an international deal to crack down on tax havens.
He has called a meeting of UK overseas territories and crown dependencies on Saturday in an effort to secure their agreement to join a new OECD convention aimed at closing off multinational firms’ cross-border avoidance schemes.
It is feared that failure to show firm action to deal with the issue on the Government’s own doorstep could undermine the premier’s efforts to take a global lead.
Bermuda said it was “strongly committed” to joining up but it remained unclear whether it and another nine territories would formally sign up before the summit gets under way.
Mr Cable said at the weekend that some were among the world’s “sunny places for shady people” acting as tax havens.
Bernuda’s premier Craig Cannonier fuelled speculation that a deal was unlikely when he indicated that there remained clauses in the agreement “that may need to be adjusted” and that his finance ministry was “going over it with a fine-tooth comb”.
But in a later statement issued via the Foreign Office, he said: “Following misleading reports in the media, I want to clarify that Bermuda is strongly committed to joining the multilateral convention on tax information-sharing.
“Bermuda is a well-regulated jurisdiction and has always been at the forefront of international efforts to fight tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
“I am encouraged that other Overseas Territories are also committed to joining the Convention and I look forward to taking part in the G8 Open for Growth Event in London on Saturday to discuss these matters further.”
Mr Cameron said putting “aggressive” tax avoidance at the centre of his G8 agenda had helped ensure it was “now being discussed, I suspect, in every boardroom in the world”.
An influential parliamentary committee earlier called on HM Revenue & Customs to “fully investigate” Google, after finding that the internet giant uses “highly contrived” tax arrangements with the sole purpose of avoiding corporation tax on its multibillion-pound revenues in the UK.
The Prime Minister told Bloomberg: “There is something of a moment taking place when this issue that for years was at the margins of debate is much closer to the centre of debate.
“The British Government’s helped to put it there. It’s good that this is something now being discussed, I suspect, in every boardroom in the world.
“Business has gone more and more global, and more and more online, and yet tax systems are still very national and rather offline,” he added.
The two-day G8 gathering will bring together the leaders of the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia in the beautiful surroundings of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh.
The crisis in Syria will also be a priority for the summit, with Mr Cameron calling for talks at Lough Erne to focus on “the tangible steps we can take to help forge a political transition”, rather than the issue of whether to arm rebel groups.
Conservative MEP Robert Sturdy, the vice-president of the European Parliament’s trade committee, said it would be better to postpone agreement of the mandate until after the summit than accept French demands.
“If we start exempting entire sectors now then the USA will have every right to retaliate, and the talks could be scuppered before they even begin,” he said.
“It is completely counterproductive to exempt an entire industry from the trade talks at this early stage. Clearly red lines exist for both sides, but they should be dealt with in the negotiations.
“It is a shame that France sees open trade as a threat to its culture, when it should be seen as an opportunity to spread it.
“President Hollande’s political weakness at home should not trip up this game-changer in global trade. This is not a French mandate for talks, it is an EU one.
“If France is not willing to sign up to the Commission’s latest proposal then we would be better to postpone adoption of a mandate.
“I would rather have a delay of a few weeks than have our negotiators walk into the room with a hand tied behind their backs by France.”