Business, Economics and Jobs

G8 summit in Northern Ireland kicks off with talks on Syria, trade, tax evasion (LIVE)

The G8 summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland begins today with leaders from the world's largest economies meeting to discuss the war in Syria, as well as tax and trade issues.

The two-day event is being hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who welcomed the other leaders from the so-called Group of Eight — United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada.

Cameron hoped to talk about trade, tax compliance and transparency, but it is increasingly likely that the brutal civil war in Syria will overshadow the summit.

Here's what the G8 agenda may look like:


The Syrian war has shot to the top of the summit's agenda following last week's revelations.

The death toll rose to nearly 93,000 last week, and the US government announced its decision to arm Syria's struggling rebels after finding evidence of chemical weapon use by the Syrian regime.

Though all sides claim to want the bloodshed to come to an end, Russia sharply disagrees with its Western counterparts on how to end the conflict.

GlobalPost analysis: Moscow rebukes US over Syria chemical weapons report

Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syria's last and most powerful allies, is expected to insist there's no peace deal without keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, at least for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, even ahead of direct US assistance, Britain and France may join Gulf Arab states in providing military support to the Syrian rebels. Earlier this month, the European Union allowed a weapons embargo to expire, thereby enabling European governments to send arms to the rebels, if they choose to do so.

The military balance in Syria has shifted further in Assad's favor in the last month, particularly with the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah fighting alongside Syrian government troops. After strategic gains in June, Assad's forces are reportedly planning an all-out assault on Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

Russia has supplied Assad's government with weapons and possibly money throughout the more than two-year conflict.

Putin is expected to push back on suggestions of Western military intervention in the region.

He recently asked Western leaders if they thought it was wise to support the rebels "who not only kill their enemies but open up their bodies and eat their internal organs in front of the public and the cameras." That was in reference to a grisly YouTube video allegedly made by the anti-Assad forces.

Adding to tensions at this week's summit, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blasted Putin saying that the Russian president supported “the thugs of the Assad regime."

Ahead of the summit, Harper pointed out Russia's isolated diplomatic position:

“I don’t think we should fool ourselves,” Harper said. “This is the G7 plus one. Let’s be blunt, that’s what this is: the G7 plus one.”

The prognosis? Don't expect a breakthrough on Syria.

Tax evasion, transparency, trade

The original focus of the G8 summit was meant to be the all-important, but perhaps far duller, topics of trade and tax evasion.

With many European countries still facing recession and growth remaining sluggish worldwide, G8 leaders hope to make headway on trade agreements.

A US-EU trade agreement in its nascent stages appears to be moving ahead. However, issues such as food standards and subsidies will help draw talks out for years to come.

GlobalPost Q&A: Can an EU-US trade deal save the world?

On Tuesday, the leaders are slated to discuss tax avoidance, particularly companies that take their money offshore.

Tax havens, including small British proctectorates and countries like Switzerland, have recently been under massive pressure from larger economies to open up their secretive banks.

The issue has been at the forefront of recent debates about how to close budget gaps in debt-ridden European economies.

Small countries like the Turks and Caicos Islands have vowed to push back against transparency.

You can follow the summit here on Twitter or watch live below: