Your Taxes: New sheriff in Israel

The OECD has indeed facilitated a potentially large increase in tax revenues and tax enforcement measures for governments around the world.

By LEON HARRIS
May 31, 2016 21:51
4 minute read.
Angel Gurría Netanyahu

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría presents the fourth OECD Economic Survey of Israel to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‏. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

 
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Who sets the fiscal policy here? If you said the Finance Ministry, go to the back of the class. And if you said the Bank of Israel, take some extra classes. In practice, there is a new sheriff in town, in Israel and over 100 other countries – the OECD and its director of Tax Policy Administration, Pascal Saint-Amans. He has headed up a major international campaign on the tax front.

Below are extracts from a May 24 article of the OECD entitled “Global tax and transparency: We have the tools, now we must make them work.”

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According to the OECD, if there is a silver lining to the 2008 financial crisis, it is that it was a catalyst for the unprecedented progress we have made in building robust international tax standards for the interconnected global economy of the 21st century.

The current international tax agenda of the OECD relies on two building blocks: (1) tackling tax avoidance via the OECD/G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project (relevant mainly for multinational corporations); and (2) promoting transparency and exchange of information among jurisdictions for tax purposes (relevant mainly for private individuals).

The international debate on taxation first went global in 2009, when at the height of the crisis, the G20 declared that bank secrecy was over and committed to take action against non-co-operative jurisdictions, including tax havens. Countries around the world agreed to fight cross-border tax evasion together by committing to the international standard for exchange of tax information on request (EOIR) developed by the OECD, and by joining the restructured Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes.

Individuals – Common Reporting Standard: Global tax transparency was further enhanced in 2014 when the OECD developed the global Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI), which 101 jurisdictions have now committed to implement, with the first such exchanges due to begin by 2017. This common global standard will minimize the compliance burdens for both governments and financial institutions and result in an increase in voluntary compliance, as demonstrated by the over US$48 billion already collected through voluntary disclosure programs (amnesties).

Comment: The OECD CRS bears a remarkable resemblance to the US FATCA program.

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To duly implement the automatic information exchange standard, the OECD is now working with G20 countries and the Global Forum to provide all participating jurisdictions, rich and poor, with the tools and practical guidance necessary for globally consistent implementation. The OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration (FTA) has just agreed a Common Transmission System (CTS) creating the first global bilateral exchange system to operationalise automatic exchanges in a truly transformative way.

According to the OECD, the recent “Panama Papers” scandal demonstrated that the veil of secrecy continues to damage communities, whether by concealing earnings to evade taxes or to commit other serious financial crimes like money laundering.

The OECD says the international pressure on Panama, encouraging it to fall into line with the new global standards, shows the impact that the OECD’s tax work is having.

Comment: It seems the Panama Papers would have been published with or without the OECD’s work.

The G20 has recently mandated the OECD to establish criteria to identify non-co-operative jurisdictions. The OECD and the Global Forum, in partnership with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), have been mandated by the G20 and Anti-Corruption Summit to work on improving the availability of beneficial ownership information to enable tax authorities to identify the true owners behind shell companies and other legal arrangements.

Implementation is important for the BEPS (Base Erosion Profit Shifting) measures to work. The problem here is that, when reporting their global earnings, many multinational companies can artificially (and legally) move their profits around in search of the lowest tax rates, often undermining the tax bases of the jurisdictions where the real economic activities take place and where value is created.

So a comprehensive package of anti- BEPS measures was endorsed at the G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya, Turkey, on 15-16 November 2015.

For the first time in history 44 countries (all OECD and G20 members plus Colombia and Latvia), representing their equivalent of about 90% of the world’s economy, worked together to tackle tax avoidance.

The BEPS package covers three unifying themes: (1) to align rules on taxation with the location of economic activity and value creation; (2) to improve coherence between domestic tax systems and international rules; and (3) to promote transparency.

The OECD and G20 countries have now agreed to move forward on implementation and monitoring. The 2016 Chinese Presidency of the G20 has proposed linking tax policy with broader G20 objectives, namely strong, sustainable and inclusive growth.

More comments: Israel is a member of the OECD but the Israeli tax Authority’s uptake of OECD pronouncements has been mixed. For example, Tax Circular 4/2016 (published April 11 this year) seeks to tax a “significant digital presence”. This refers to a concept that appeared in an old draft PEPS report but was dropped from the final BEPS reports as being too unclear, we all use the internet now.

More generally, the OECD has indeed facilitated a potentially large increase in tax revenues and tax enforcement measures for governments around the world.

But many issues ought to now be debated.

Will the international computer systems (the Common Transmission System) work effectively? What will governments do with all that extra tax cash? Is the OECD indeed the new world tax sheriff? For how long? And for UK voters on June 23, is the OECD a substitute for the EU? As always, consult experienced tax advisors in each country at an early stage in specific cases.

leon@hcat.co
The writer is a certified public accountant and tax specialist at Harris Consulting & Tax Ltd.

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