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Britain, Colonies Discuss Taxes

October 19, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ Gathering together the remnants of Empire, the Foreign Office on Tuesday welcomed government leaders from the mainly island territories that still are British colonies.

The tricky issue of tax havens is likely to be high on the agenda of the closed door, two-day meeting with officials from what are now termed Overseas Territories.

The 11 territories represented at the meeting range from wealthy Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to ocean dots with populations of a few thousand or fewer, such as St. Helena in the Atlantic.

The meeting follows a discussion paper issued by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government this year aimed at formalizing relations with the remaining territories following the 1997 return to China of Hong Kong, the last big colony.

Lady Patricia Scotland, an Antiguan-born lawyer who is the Foreign Office minister responsible for the territories, is chairing the meeting.

The 14-national Caribbean Community trade bloc, which includes independent nations, agreed at a meeting in July to tighten laws to keep drug money and illegal profits from being laundered at offshore banks.

Bermuda, with a population of around 60,000, has attracted international business and rich private individuals with its low taxes. The Cayman Islands have a population of about 32,000, and some 560 licensed commercial banks and trust companies, and more than 40,000 registered companies.

The Turks and Caicos islands , with about 19,000 people, is another specialist in tourism and offshore finance.

The territories also include the Falkland Islands which Britain wrested back from Argentine invaders in 1982, and Gibraltar, another disputed colony on the southern tip of Spain.

The territories largely control their own internal affairs. Britain appoints governors and is responsible for defense and foreign affairs.

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