Your taxes: The Group of 20 and information exchange

At this stage, we know the OECD proposal will include a model “competent authority agreement” and a “multilateral convention.”

September 17, 2013 23:56
2 minute read.
Israeli gold bullion coins

Israel gold bullion coins money wealth economy 370. (photo credit: Eli Gross/Keren Or)

The Group of 20 leaders’ summit was held in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 5-6. It was dominated by talk about what to do about the use of gas in Syria. But the role of the G-20 is primarily economic.

G-20 leaders met for the first time in 2008. Their main objective is to “upgrade the level of consultations within the G-20 to set a framework for preventing future financial crises, while securing sustainable and balanced global growth.”

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that after the St. Petersburg conference, the G-20 leaders issued a tax annex to their communique.

Below are a few things the G-20 leaders have told us to expect: • First, information exchange. This is currently done using information-exchange rules in bilateral tax treaties. In July, G-20 finance ministers and central-bank governors endorsed an OECD proposal for a global model for multilateral and bilateral automatic exchange of information for tax purposes and declared their commitment to automatic exchange of information as the new global standard.

Currently, it is considered unacceptable for the tax authority of country A to embark on “fishing expeditions” by asking the tax authority of country B to reveal the names of people who have income or assets in country B. Instead, country A must itself name the people it wants more information about.

Will the new “standard” mean that country B will automatically notify countries A to Z of people who have income or assets in country B? If so, will it be based on FATCA (US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) principles? FATCA will soon require non-US banks to automatically report about financial accounts held by US taxpayers or foreign entities in which US taxpayers hold a substantial ownership interest.

At this stage, we know the OECD proposal will include a model “competent authority agreement” and a “multilateral convention.”

The Israel Tax Authority has recently indicated it is interested in initiating an amendment to the Income Tax Ordinance to enable Israel to sign up to such agreements. Then the ITA will presumably be allowed to send information automatically to all other countries that signed up to the multilateral convention in one go.

Is this serious? The St. Petersburg communique points out that there is already a multilateral document – the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. It was developed jointly by the Council of Europe and the OECD. More than 70 countries are covered or are likely to be covered by the convention, including significant financial centers. It allows for all forms of cooperation in tax matters, including automatic exchange of information. The G-20 communique says, “We expect all jurisdictions to join the convention without further delay.”

• Second, the St. Petersburg communique says that international collective efforts must also address the tax “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS). This relates chiefly to instances where the interaction of different tax rules result in tax planning that may be used by multinational enterprises.

Comments: These measures are still being formulated by the G-20 and the OECD. But past experience suggests that new tax legislation usually contains new tax loopholes – a cat-and-mouse situation. Time will tell.

As always, consult experienced tax advisers in each country at an early stage in specific cases. Leon Harris is a certified public accountant and tax specialist at Harris Consulting & Tax Ltd.

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