Northern Ireland summit continues global cooperation

G-8 leaders make progress on taxes, trade

The G-8 summit held Monday and Tuesday has reconfirmed strong commitment by member nations to expanded cooperation. The conference also symbolizes the remarkable progress toward stable peace in Northern Ireland, which hosted the gathering.

Historically rooted violence there between Catholics and Protestants has waned dramatically. The conference was held at the Lough Erne golf resort, near Enniskillen, a setting both beautiful and peaceful.

In a surprise, President Barack Obama joined United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron in a motorcade through the area, and visited an integrated elementary school where Catholic and Protestant children study together.

The Enniskillen Integrated Primary School was established in 1987 in the aftermath of a bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army, which killed 12 people. The attack occurred on Remembrance Day, established after World War I to honor those killed in the line of duty.

Cameron and Obama assisted students in painting a banner about the G-8. The symbolism involved was silently eloquent. Politicians who value not talking deserve respect, at least for that moment.

In addition to Britain and the U.S., the G-8 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia. The larger and newer G-20, to some extent, has overshadowed this Atlantic-centered body. The latest summit reconfirms continued importance of the G-8. The leaders agreed to work together to make peace talks to end the Syria civil war an urgent priority.

They also emphasized financial transparency, with agreements to provide automatic access to tax information on residents of member nations, and clarity regarding true ownership of companies. Those initiatives are designed to minimize tax avoidance, including, in particular, corporations that move funds across borders to avoid payment.

The subject of taxes is technical but also fundamental to the political as well as economic foundations of international cooperation. In advance of the G-8 summit, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) agreed to similar mechanisms for financial information sharing. The OECD includes all the G-8 members but Russia, and is also much larger, with a total membership of 34 countries.

The Northern Ireland summit also agreed to launch comprehensive, new transatlantic trade negotiations between Europe and North America. This means international economic parlays have now come full circle.

World War II provided powerful incentive for a challenging, continuing series of negotiations among nations to expand trade and investment. The first was the Eisenhower administration’s Dillon Round involving the U.S. and Europe. President John F. Kennedy generally experienced frustration with Congress, but one notable success was the trade expansion legislation passed in 1961, which in turn permitted the successful Kennedy Round of multilateral negotiations, completed in 1967.

The successful Tokyo and Uruguay Rounds were completed in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. As their titles imply, the negotiations and agreements were more global in nature, reaching well beyond the Atlantic area, which was the initial focus of this effort – and of the Cold War, which began over Allied disagreements regarding the occupation of Germany and Berlin.

By contrast, the current Doha economic negotiations have been long stalled, primarily because of disagreements over agriculture. Refocusing now on Europe is a sensible move to try to generate fresh momentum.

Northern Ireland is hardly the only part of the world plagued with sectarian strife. Armed conflict continues in the Middle East and elsewhere, but the long-term trend is toward stability.

More open trade and investment, along with effective law enforcement, has been essential to this progress.

Note to readers – Arthur I. Cyr is the Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin, and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact him at acyr@carthage.edu.