Monday 23 April 2018

OECD warns over interim moves to curb tax avoidance

OECD tax policy director Pascal Saint-Amans
OECD tax policy director Pascal Saint-Amans
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The man behind the global initiative to reform international corporate tax rules has warned some EU countries are likely push ahead with their own "interim measures" to combat tax avoidance by big firms.

Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the Centre for Tax Policy at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said that if this is the case, it must be ensured these measures cause as little damage as possible.

He also said he does not believe a decision by US President Donald Trump to slash the corporate tax rate in America will be a threat to Ireland.

The European Commission is currently holding a public consultation to help decide on a fairer tax regime for large digital corporations that may include a tax on their global profits.

The commission plans make binding legislative proposals for a fair taxation of the digital economy by March.

Last week, the commissioner responsible for taxation matters, Pierre Moscovici, said a European digital tax "is happening" and Brussels is ready to "lead by example" to "push global partners to act" to resolve the "deep schism between where digital profits are generated and where they are taxed".

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Saint-Amans, who has spearheaded the OECD's Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) process, said the length of time it takes to get a global approach to tax avoidance, means some may look to go it alone.

"To find a long-term solution, you need to change tax treaties, you need to adopt transfer pricing rules and that's going to take time," Mr Saint-Amans said.

"You need to get to the right analysis of the challenges of the digitalisation of the economy, and things are not stabilising there.

"So I think there is agreement that we need to address this collectively," he added.

"You're left with another challenge, which is, if it takes too long - and it will take a few years - how do you address the concerns of the people?"

Earlier this month, France and Germany intensified calls for US technology giants to pay more tax in the EU, with Paris saying the new bill could amount to billions of euro.

President Emmanuel Macron's government has proposed taxing the tech giants on revenues rather than profits, to get around the problem that the companies shift the profits from where they are earned to low-tax jurisdictions.

But Ireland is opposing moves at European level, preferring instead to focus on the BEPS process.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said Ireland's concerns about digital taxation is broadly shared by a growing number of EU countries.

"If we bring forward measures relating to digital taxation, they're going to have to apply equally to international, local and European companies," the minister said.

Mr Saint-Amans said that while there is a debate going on in Europe about this issue, there is no consensus.

"If you take Ireland and France, I'm not sure they are fully aligned, for sure they are not at all," he told the Irish Independent.

"People should expect some countries will take interim measures and we should ensure that these measures are as little damaging as possible."

Mr Saint-Amans also said he did not see tax reform in the US as a threat to Ireland for now.

"I do see the issue as an alignment of the US [with the rest of the world], rather than a new start of harsh competition," he said.

"It may not be true in the Americas but for Ireland and others, I don't see the issue as being of major impact."

He added: "We may need to wait a bit more to fully assess the impact."

Irish Independent

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