Hopes for G8 Trade and Tax Deals Dented

George Parker, Peter Spiegel and Hugh Carnegy
David Cameron
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Hopes of a deal to boost the world economy at next week's Group of Eight summit were in the balance on Thursday night, as France and Canada resisted a last-minute push for an ambitious trade and tax package.

France's refusal to include its film industry in EU-U.S. trade negotiations has thrown into doubt plans to launch talks on Monday, when European leaders meet Barack Obama, U.S. president, at the summit in Northern Ireland.

Stephen Harper, Canada's prime minister, is also resisting – partly on grounds of tax confidentiality – plans to crack down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion by requiring the disclosure of the ultimate owner of shell companies.

(Read More: France Expands Inquiry of Tax Evasion at UBS)

David Cameron, British prime minister and summit host, met Mr. Harper on Thursday in London to try to break the impasse, while European trade ministers will meet in Luxembourg on Friday in an effort to agree a mandate for the U.S. trade talks.

In an attempt to win over France, Karel de Gucht, EU trade commissioner, will offer the French government the right to challenge any offer he makes to the U.S. affecting French film, television and music when the trade negotiations finally get under way.

Allowing individual governments the right to influence parts of the negotiation is a breach with the EU's normal negotiating procedures and will irritate some member states.

Paris has said it is not willing to budge unless audiovisual industries were excluded in advance. "We'll say no," said Nicole Bricq, France's trade minister. "There will be a political blockage – a veto if you want to call it that."

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U.S. officials, who believed they had secured a promise from Brussels that no industry would be excluded from the talks, have warned the EU risks similar exclusions on the American side if it proceeds with concessions to Paris.

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Meanwhile, aides to Mr. Cameron reported "good constructive discussions" between the UK prime minister and Mr. Harper, although talks on a summit deal on revealing the ultimate beneficial owners of shell companies are ongoing.

Mr. Cameron wants the G-8 to give political backing to new global standards on corporate tax, including the automatic exchange of tax information and some kind of ownership register for shell companies.

The British premier will be strongly backed by Mr. Obama. The U.S. Treasury on Thursday said it wanted a "strong commitment" to tackle "criminal and illicit actors who use shell companies to hide their true identity".

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But with Bermuda, a British overseas territory, also expressing reservations about a tax information exchange deal, Mr. Cameron's moral authority to broker a deal on new global standards on corporate tax transparency could be tarnished.

However, the Atlantic island's prime minister, Craig Cannonier, said on Thursday that Bermuda was "strongly committed to joining the multilateral convention on tax information sharing".