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G20 Bank tax push gains momentum as UK, France, Germany introduce national legislation

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The Guardian reports that the new UK budget introduces a number of ‘austerity measures‘: The chancellor said the “unavoidable budget” required a VAT rise from 17.5% to 20% next January, higher capital gains tax, a levy on banks, a two-year public sector pay freeze and less generous benefits, but insisted the package was needed to prevent the financial markets from turning on Britain.

In case you’re under the impression a bank tax would be a good thing, consider: Qui bono? Not the populace, which will be expected to absorb the costs. Not the regional banks, many of whom are guiltless of causing the economic crisis, and which will be put under further stress to consolidate and merge with – the mega banks, which blew out the economy with fraudulent derivative instruments and are tied into governments and international central banking institutions. It’s here that we must look, to the expanding global central banks, to really understand who would benefit from such a move.

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Eric Reguly, The Globe and Mail
June 22, 2010

In an attempt to take a bite out of ballooning deficits, Britain, France and Germany announce new levies on their banks

Three of Europe’s biggest economies have thrust the bank levy debate back on to the global agenda despite Canada’s best efforts to kill it, a move that threatens a showdown at the Group of 20 summit.

The effort to slap an additional tax on banks picked up momentum on Tuesday when the British government’s emergency budget announced its intention to proceed with such a move — worth £2-billion ($3-billion) a year — and France and Germany announced similar proposals.

The issue promises to be a divisive one at the summit this week given the European alliance and the heated opposition to such a levy by countries such as Canada. The idea for such a tax was believed dead after G20 finance ministers met in South Korea earlier and backed away from such a proposal.

It’s yet another challenge for the summit, which will also be grappling with a plea by the United States that world leaders not put the global recovery at risk through widespread cutbacks. European governments are in the midst of such austerity measures to bring their finances under control, while Canada, the host country, has also urged deficit targets.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s decision to tax total bank liabilities at 0.04 per cent beginning in January, rising to 0.07 per cent a year later, did not rattle investors, who had expected a higher figure. But it was dismissed by some tax accountants as political pandering and by bankers as harmful to an industry that is only just recovering from a crisis that nearly destroyed it.

The British Bankers Association fears British banks and their foreign subsidiaries will be hit with overlapping levies, hurting their ability to compete, as they are introduced in various countries.

“Bank levies need to be co-ordinated internationally: they must not prevent the industry in the U.K. from being able to compete,” the association said. “It is essential that the international banks do not find themselves taxed multiple times for the same thing.”

The British government will consult with banks before the levy is introduced. But in his maiden budget only weeks after the general election, Mr. Osborne gave no hint he would back down.

“This was a crisis that started in the banking sector and the failures of the banks imposed a huge cost on the rest of society,” he said. “So it is fair and right that in future, banks should make a more appropriate contribution which reflects the many risks that they generate.”

He got moral support from France and Germany, which announced their intention to introduce levies to offset the cost of any future banking crises. In a joint letter, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the G20 countries to come to an “international agreement to introduce a levy or tax on financial institutions to ensure fair burden-sharing and create incentives designed to contain systemic risks.”

Britain, France and Germany also raised the possibility of bank taxes beyond the levies. Mr. Osborne said Britain will consider taxing bank profits or compensation payouts. The French and German letter mentioned the possibility of “an international agreement on a global financial market tax,” which is code for a tax on financial transactions.

Canada has strongly opposed bank levies and has received support from Russia, China, India and Australia in its effort to use other methods, such as tougher capital requirements, to make banks less prone to accident.

Canada argues that Canadian banks, considered among the healthiest in the world, should not be punished for their success. It also cites moral hazard — the existence of a levy-financed fund to pay for future bank bailouts could, it believes, tempt banks to take higher than usual risks — and it reiterated its opposition after the European announcements.

“As far as Canada and other like-minded countries are concerned, we will not put in place a bank tax,” said Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “We’re in a different situation, but we are looking for a way that we can find an agreement on the general principles that various countries are trying to pursue when they propose a bank tax.”

The Canadian Bankers Association was also quick to oppose the effort for an international agreement on bank levies. “What is important is stability in the financial sector and good risk management,” the CBA said in a statement. “You don’t get this by imposing a tax on financial institutions.”

While Britain, France and Germany are leading the bank levy charge, any European, let alone international, agreement is far from certain. In Europe, for instance, there is broad disagreement over where the funds from the levy would go. Some countries, such as Sweden and Germany, would like the funds to be “ring fenced,” or set aside for future bailouts and off limits to other government departments. Other European countries think the levy funds should count as general government revenues.

The United States is generally in support of a bank levy, though any such tax would have to be approved by Congress and is unlikely to be included in the new Wall Street reform package. President Barack Obama six months ago proposed a 0.15 per cent levy on bank’s balance sheets (less insured deposits and core capital, known as Tier 1 capital). The levy would raise about $117-billion (U.S.) over 10 years.

The International Monetary Fund intends to present a report on possible bank taxes at the G20 summit. Germany intends to present draft legislation for a bank levy this summer. France said it will “present details of its bank tax in the coming budget,” some time in the autumn.

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2 Responses to “G20 Bank tax push gains momentum as UK, France, Germany introduce national legislation”

  1. statism watch » Blog Archive » Maurice Strong: I don’t want to rule the world but global cooperation needed on climate, population, and consumption Says:

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