G20 ministers weigh coronavirus risks at Saudi meeting

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The coronavirus outbreak has hit travel and trade not only in China where it first emerged but as far away as the Middle East and Europe (AFP Photo)

Riyadh – Finance ministers and central bank governors from G20 nations weighed the potential impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the world economy as they met in Riyadh Saturday for a two-day gathering.

At the meeting in Saudi Arabia, the first Arab nation to hold the G20 presidency, financial leaders from the world’s top 20 economies are also seeking consensus on ways to achieve a global taxation system for the digital era.

The gathering comes amid growing alarm over the new coronavirus as Chinese authorities lock down millions of people to prevent the spread of the disease, with major knock-on effects for the global economy.

The virus has now claimed 2,345 lives in China, cutting off transportation and forcing businesses to close their doors.

The impact of the epidemic could see a “V-shaped” trajectory, with a sharp decline in China’s GDP followed by a sharp recovery, but the situation could have more dire consequences for other countries as the impacts spill over, said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.

At the core of discussions at the gathering is an action plan to shield the world economy — already facing a slowdown — from the impact of the outbreak, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

“The question remains open: whether it will be a V-shape with a quick recovery of the world economy or whether it would lead to a L-shape with a persistent slowdown in world growth,” Le Maire told reporters.

“This is the key question.”

China has said it will not be sending any leaders from Beijing for the Riyadh gathering, chaired by the the kingdom’s finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan and central bank governor Ahmed al-Kholifey.

But it said the Chinese ambassador in the kingdom will instead lead a small delegation.

“We have been closely watching the developments of the virus and assessing its potential effects on economic growth,” a senior US Treasury official told reporters.

“We expect ministers and governors will discuss the global economic outlook, particularly as it relates to the coronavirus outbreak.”

– ‘One solution’ –

The G20 organisers also hosted a ministerial-level symposium on international taxation on Saturday, focused on the challenges arising from the digitalisation of the global economy.

“There is a consensus among the G20 members on the necessity of getting this new international taxation system for the sake of fairness and efficiency,” said Le Maire.

He added there was also consensus on a global framework for an international system while urging the gathered leaders to reach a compromise solution by the end of the year.

Last month, Britain said its planned digital tax on hugely profitable technology giants will proceed from April despite US threats of retaliatory tariffs.

“You cannot have in a global economy different national tax systems that conflict with each other,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Riyadh gathering.

Other European nations like Italy and Austria have already introduced their own digital levy, but France has put its plans on hold.

Presidents Emmanuel Macron and US Donald Trump have agreed to extend negotiations on the proposed French tax on digital giants to the end of the year, postponing Washington’s threat of sanctions against Paris, according to a French diplomatic source.

France has said it would drop its tax if an international agreement is reached under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Saudi presidency will see it host world leaders for a summit in Riyadh from November 21 to 22.

It will hold more than 100 events and conferences in the run-up to the summit, including ministerial meetings, organisers say.

Human rights groups have urged G20 member states to exert pressure on the kingdom over its intensifying crackdown on dissent, which has seen women activists, journalists and political dissidents jailed.

(AFP)

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