So near and yet so far…
Hopes were riding high yesterday that UK parliamentarians might seize the opportunity to take historic action to end decades of financial secrecy in the UK’s Overseas Territories. We blogged about this yesterday highlighting the fact that a lot of ongoing Parliamentary business was at risk of being shelved because of the sudden general election called by British Prime Minister Theresa May. There’s a phenomenon known as the wash-up period which “refers to the last few days of a Parliament before dissolution. Any unfinished business is lost at dissolution and the Government may need the co-operation of the Opposition in passing legislation that is still in progress.”
Colombian power generation firm Isagen has been sold to Brookfield for $2bn. Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners L.P. describes itself as a “Bermuda based limited partnership”.
The deal was hugely controversial, with people taking to the streets after it was announced in protest. Isagen is a profitable company and the campaign group Justicia Tributaria had previously managed obtain a judicial suspension of the deal, questioning the motivation behind it.
Brookfield ended up being the only bidder in this deal that will see profits generated in Colombia going to Bermuda.
Update, Dec 7, 2015: a new paper in the Journal of World Business, which contains this:
“Home country statutory corporate tax rates have a small impact on tax haven use. In general, corporate tax rates are an important factor in driving MNEs to set up tax haven subsidiaries. However, as long as there is a significant gap between tax rates in OECD countries and those in tax havens, our results suggests that reducing corporate tax rates will not substantially change the likelihood of MNEs setting up tax havens subsidiaries. MNEs will continue to take advantage of the host country specific advantages available in tax haven locations, which include minimal rates of corporate income tax, light-touch regulation and secrecy.”
Our emphasis added. Which strongly supports the conclusions of the reports we cite below.
“In 2013 the OECD, supported by the G20, promised to bring an end to international corporate tax avoidance which costs countries around the world billions in tax revenues each year. However, with the recently announced actions against corporate tax dodging, G20 and OECD countries have failed to live up to their promise. Despite some meaningful actions, they have left the fundamentals of a broken tax system intact and failed to curb tax competition and harmful tax practices.”
In dollar terms, G20 countries are the biggest losers – while low income developing countries such as Honduras, the Philippines and Ecuador are hardest hit because corporate tax revenues comprise a higher proportion of their national income. The G20 Heads of State are expected to consider a package of measures they claim will address corporate tax avoidance at their annual meeting in Turkey on 15th and 16th November.
The key reforms are the OECD’s so-called “BEPS” project on corporate tax cheating, which we’ve written about extensively. And the details from the report:
“In 2012, US multinationals alone shifted $500–700bn, or roughly 25 percent of their annual profits, mostly to countries where these profits are not taxed, or taxed at very low rates. In other words, $1 out of every $4 of profits generated by these multinationals is not aligned with real economic activity.”
These findings are based on major new TJN research by Alex Cobham and Petr Jansky, which can be found here (and will be permanently available on our “Reports” and “Magnitudes” pages: it focuses on U.S. multinationals, not just because it’s important, but also because of data availability.)
Here’s a picture that illustrates one important aspect of the problem:
For some, that may seem like just numbers and graphics. But as the report notes, this has major implications:
“As governments are losing tax revenues, ordinary people end up paying the price: schools and hospitals lose funding and vital public services are cut. Fair taxation of profitable businesses and rich people is central to addressing poverty and inequality through the redistribution of income. Instead, the current global system of tax avoidance redistributes wealth upwards to the richest in society.
That is why civil society organizations, united in the C20 group, together with trade unions, are calling for the actions announced by the OECD to be regarded only as the beginning of a longer and more inclusive process to re-write global tax rules and to ensure that multinationals pay their fair share, in the interest of developed and developing countries around the world.”
Claire Godfrey, head of policy for Oxfam’s Even it Up Campaign said:
“Rich and poor countries alike are haemorrhaging money because multinational companies are not required to pay their fair share of taxes where they make their money. Ultimately the cost is being borne by ordinary people – particularly the poorest who rely on public services and who are suffering because of budget cuts.”
Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International said:
“Public anger will grow if the G20 leaders allow the world’s largest corporations to continue dodging billions in tax while inequality rises, austerity bites and public services are cut.”
Alex Cobham, TJN’s Director of Research, said:
“The corporate tax measures being adopted by the G20 this week are not enough. They will not stop the race to the bottom in corporate taxation, and they will not provide the transparency that’s needed to hold companies and tax authorities accountable. It’s in the G20’s own interest to support deeper reforms to the global tax system.”
The report is available in French and Spanish too, on the Global Alliance for Tax Justice site.
The full paper behind the report is published in the peer-reviewed working paper series of the International Centre for Tax and Development – the leading international and interdisciplinary academic centre in its field, funded by the UK and Norwegian governments:
Since its first publication in 2009, TJN’s Financial Secrecy Index has helped transform public understanding of the geography of tax havens. This has been helped by the huge international press coverage the index receives. This week’s launch of the 2015 FSI results has been no exception, with literally hundreds of articles in the international and national presses, including the local presses of the smaller secrecy jurisdictions.