G20 gets ‘action plan’ to clamp down on tax avoidance
The OECD presented G20 nations with a bold strategy on Friday to crack down on tax avoidance by corporate giants and the super rich, and so boost overstretched national budgets.
The G20 group of emerging and advanced nations had asked the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to come up with the action plan after agreeing earlier this year to focus on tax avoidance.
The OECD said that governments had to improve alignment between their tax regulations to prevent big investors from parking huge sums in tax havens.
The plan was presented at the start of the latest meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Moscow under the Russian presidency, in the hope it will be agreed in the final communique on Saturday.
“It (the plan) sets forth 15 actions that would result in most fundamental changes in the tax systems since the 1920s,” said OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria.
“We must address this so that multinationals pay their fair share,” he added.
The proposal seeks to end the possibility for multinational companies to profit from tax agreements between separate states and ultimately pay very little or zero tax.
The main champions of the plan – Germany, Britain, France and Russia – want it to be adopted by the entire G20 and then implemented in the next two years.
“Some big companies manage to have a three or four-per cent tax rate worldwide,” French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told a news conference.
“These situations are impossible to explain to our fellow citizens ... The plan is a major breakthrough,” he added.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said the OECD plan represented “a major step forward” in the battle against tax avoidance.
“The message is clear – people and companies are to pay the taxes that are due,” said Osborne.
There had been doubts about Moscow’s commitment to the issue, given many Russian firms are registered abroad for tax reasons, a practise that was highlighted sharply by the Cyprus crisis.
But Osborne said Moscow was fully involved in the plan.
“The Russian presidency has picked up the issue, there is a clear commitment to endorse this agenda,” he said.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said it was essential the measures were adopted by the entire G20.
“Applying these measures in a single country or just a group will produce no result,” he said.
‘Bold’ action on tax norms needed
The OECD said in its plan that a proper rule system was needed as the current framework was “consensus-based” and risked being entirely undermined, especially as the digital economy becomes ever more important.
“New international standards must be designed to ensure the coherence of corporate income taxation at the international level,” the OECD said.
“A bold move by policy makers is necessary to prevent worsening problems,” said the OECD.
Finance ministers and central bank chiefs will now hope to make a strong and unified statement on tax avoidance in their final communique.
Actions proposed by the OECD include requiring taxpayers to disclose their aggressive tax planning arrangements to the fiscal authorities but also making dispute resolution mechanisms more effective.
Companies in the spotlight in the last months for using these legal, but controversial, methods of booking profits in low-tax countries include US giants Google, Amazon and Starbucks.
“Fundamental changes are needed to effectively prevent double non-taxation,” the OECD said. “Moreover, governments must continue to work together to tackle harmful tax practices and aggressive tax planning.”
The G20 at its meeting is also set to debate the health of the global economy and how to prevent a renewed slowdown as growth in emerging markets cool.
The United States made clear that the fight against unemployment should be at the centre of the agenda with US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew calling on EU states to do more to improve demand and growth.