Published on October 17, 2007
TAX HAVENS: The policy response to the changing environment: TAX HAVENS: The policy response to the changing environment Tax Havens and Tax Competition June 18-19, 2007 Bocconi University Milan Presentation by Jeffrey Owens Director Centre for Tax Policy and Administration OECD Integrated financial markets pose new global challenges: Integrated financial markets pose new global challenges New opportunities for illicit activities: Money laundering Misuse of corporate vehicles Terrorist financing Tax abuse Threats to stability of financial system All activities which thrive in climate of secrecy, non-transparency and non-cooperation The response of governments: The response of governments Launching the FATF Creating the FSF Creating the OECD Forum on Harmful Tax Practices Parallel tracks but common goals: To improve transparency To raise governance standards in financial centers To encourage cooperation to counter abuse Offshore is a big and growing issue: Offshore is a big and growing issue $5-7 trillion held offshore 300,000 Shell Companies in the BVI $9.4 billion from BVI to China Brazil reports a deficit of $4 billion trade with Caribbean Islands Singapore now 3rd biggest private wealth centre after Luxemburg and Switzerland Caymans 5th largest deposit banking center in the world (population 46,600) What does OECD mean by a tax haven?: 5 What does OECD mean by a tax haven? Jurisdictions characterized by: Lack of transparency Lack of effective exchange of information So a low tax jurisdiction is not necessarily a tax haven Much money held offshore is there legally: Much money held offshore is there legally OFCs may: Offer legitimate tax planning opportunities Provide a neutral regulatory environment for residents of other countries to do business e.g. collective investment funds; captive insurance Be used for non-commercial reasons Yet revenue implications of the illegitimate use of tax havens can be serious: Yet revenue implications of the illegitimate use of tax havens can be serious Ireland collects almost €900 million from Irish residents with offshore Channel Island accounts Italian tax amnesty results in €84 billion being repatriated, of which one-third from Switzerland Senate Finance Committee quotes estimates of $40-70 billion lost to tax havens UK expects to recover £1.9 billion from its recent clampdown on offshore evasion The reality is we don’t know exactly, but sums are large. The broader policy implications: The broader policy implications Reducing effective tax rates by encouraging tax evasion is not good tax policy MNEs and individuals can use tax havens to reduce tax rates This is not good tax policy since: It undermines the fairness and the integrity of the tax system It either: Restricts the ability of government to reduce tax rates for all Requires government to increase tax rates on labor or consumption with negative impact on labour markets Or forces expenditure cuts Or raises deficit As a matter of public policy, condoning tax abuse is bad politics OECD objectives: OECD objectives What does the OECD seek? improved transparency improved exchange of information a co-operative approach What is not sought? harmonization or setting minimum tax rates impinging on national fiscal sovereignty an unfair competitive advantage for OECD financial centers Two linked initiatives: 1998 initiative on Harmful Tax Practices 2000 on improving access to bank information OECD approach: OECD approach Recognizes: Interest of government in protecting integrity of tax system and confidentiality of taxpayer information Interest of business community in avoiding excessive burden Countries’ right to tailor their own tax systems to their own needs The need to move towards a level playing field and mutual benefits Transparency: Transparency Standard developed with co-operative offshore financial centers Key elements reliable books and records beneficial ownership information access to bank information Transparency unlikely to be a significant concern for bona fide business Key principles in model agreement on exchange of information: Key principles in model agreement on exchange of information On request only Covers civil and criminal tax matters Requests cannot be rejected on grounds of dual criminality requirement or absence of domestic tax interest Parties must have power to obtain bank and ownership information Information must be ‘foreseeably relevant’ No fishing expeditions Protection of taxpayer confidentiality Almost no compliance burden on business State of play : tax haven work : State of play : tax haven work Only 5 offshore jurisdictions now listed as un-cooperative tax havens: State of play: offshore financial centers: State of play: offshore financial centers 33 offshore jurisdictions committed to transparency and effective exchange of information: Aruba Antigua Anguilla Bahamas Bahrain Belize Bermuda British V.I. Cayman Is. Cooks Is. Cyprus Dominica Guernsey Grenada Gibraltar Isle of Man Jersey Malta Mauritius Montserrat Neth. Antilles Niue Nauru Panama Samoa San Marino Seychelles St. Kitts & Nevis St. Vincent St. Lucia Turks & Caicos US Virgin Is. Vanuatu State of play : 15 State of play Improving Access to Bank Information: Belgium has changed its policy! Only Austria, Luxemburg, Switzerland do not yet meet ideal standard State of Play: State of Play Survey of 82 financial centers on transparency and EOI practices issued in May: vast majority have mechanisms for EOI on criminal and civil tax matters only a very small minority require a domestic tax interest the majority can get access to bank information for criminal and civil tax matters vast majority have due diligence requirements Survey confirms progress is being made but more action is required From principles to implementation: From principles to implementation Bilateral agreements are key implementation tool Agreements which benefit both parties US has 13 TIEAs, the Netherlands have 1 (Isle of Man), New Zealand has 1 (Netherlands Antilles) and Australia has three (Antigua & Barbuda, Netherlands Antilles and Bermuda) Over 40 negotiations underway Is there a future for tax havens?: Not as concealment centers Yes, as service centers Is there a future for tax havens?