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U.N.'s World Health Organization Eyeing Global Tax on Banking, Internet Activity
Friday, January 15, 2010
By George Russell
The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering a plan to ask governments to impose a global consumer tax on such things as Internet activity or everyday financial transactions like paying bills online.
Such a scheme could raise "tens of billions of dollars" on behalf of the United Nations' public health arm from a broad base of consumers, which would then be used to transfer drug-making research, development and manufacturing capabilities, among other things, to the developing world.
The multibillion-dollar "indirect consumer tax" is only one of a "suite of proposals" for financing the rapid transformation of the global medical industry that will go before WHO's 34-member supervisory Executive Board at its biannual meeting in Geneva.
The idea is the most lucrative — and probably the most controversial — of a number of schemes proposed by a 25-member panel of medical experts, academics and health care bureaucrats who have been working for the past 14 months at WHO's behest on "new and innovative sources of funding" to accomplish major shifts in the production of medical R&D.
WHO's so-called Expert Working Group has also suggested asking rich countries to set aside fixed portions of their gross domestic product to finance the shift in worldwide research and development, as well as asking cash-rich developing nations like China, India or Venezuela to pony up more of the money.
These would also add billions in additional funds to international health care for the future — as much as $7.4 billion yearly from rich countries, and as much as $12.1 billion from low- and middle-income nations.
But the taxation ideas draw the most interest. The expert panel cites a number of possible examples. Among them:
—a 10 per cent tax on the international arms trade, "which might net about $5 billion per annum";
—a "digital tax or 'hit' tax." The report says the levy "could yield tens of billions of U.S. dollars from a broad base of users";
—a financial transaction tax. The report approvingly cites a levy in Brazil that charged 0.38 percent on bills paid online and on unspecified "major withdrawals." The report says the Brazilian tax was raising an estimated $20 billion per year until it was cancelled for unspecified reasons.
The panel concludes that "taxes would provide greater certainty once in place than voluntary contributions," even as the report urges WHO's executive board to promote all of the alternatives, and more, to support creation of a "global health research and innovation coordination and funding mechanism" for the planned revolution in medical research, development and distribution.