Finance: Sterling exchange duty could fund development

A network of voluntary groups has won the backing of an influential financier for its plans for a stamp duty on sterling currency transactions to finance international development.

Avinash Persaud, chairman of think tank Intelligence Capital and former head of currency research at JPMorgan and State Street Bank, has published a report on the topic. It is written by the organisation's head of research, Stephen Spratt.

A Sterling Solution was commissioned by Stamp Out Poverty, a network of development agencies, charities, faith groups and trade unions campaigning to fill the funding gap and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Their proposal is to levy a charge of half a basis point - 0.005 per cent - on sterling foreign exchange transactions to help alleviate poverty in the developing world. The document will form the starting point for further conversations with the Treasury.

Persaud writes in the report's introduction: "A currency transaction tax would now be relatively easy for any country to adopt, hard for any bank to evade and possible for most countries to implement unilaterally."

David Hillman, co-ordinator of Stamp Out Poverty, said Persaud's involvement had given a significant boost to the campaign. "He is so experienced in the finance sector and has personally been responsible for huge volumes of foreign exchange trade," he said. "When his researchers write a report like this, we know it contains answers to the questions we have been asking for years."

Spratt admitted he had had his doubts before embarking on the project.

"I had a vague suspicion that this tax wouldn't work because that is what everyone had been saying for the past 20 years," he said.

"But as I looked into the proposals, it became clear that this wasn't the case and all the potential obstacles just fell down."

A Sterling Solution updates a previous report with the same title produced in November last year. It contains a new section on how the tax would apply to the derivatives market and pinpoints the specific impact of the tax, giving details of how it will affect the UK banking sector and where the burden of the tax will fall.

"We actually found that the majority of UK currency trading is not in the UK anyway," said Spratt. "So the impact will be dissipated across a wide area."

A Sterling Solution will be sent to UK politicians, civil servants in the Treasury and the Department for International Development, peers and academics.

Spratt said the research might be followed up by a dollar version of the report and a study based on the Norwegian krone.

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