The first decade of October 2021 witnessed that the international tax system is going to be reformed. The world is discussing to impose a universal global minimum corporate tax, while in Europe, lawmakers are pushing for tougher policy against tax havens and wealthy people who are using offshore jurisdictions to hide illicit assets.
136 states of the world have agreed on immense tax reform of modern history and want to impose a unified global corporate tax rate at 15 percent. The document officially titled as the ‘Statement on a Two-Pillar Solution to Address the Tax Challenges Arising from the Digitalization of the Economy’, includes the implementation plan for two years and says that the work will continue to progress in consultation with stakeholders.
This is an unprecedented development in modern history. The tax is supposed to be active by 2023. According to the international media, the motives behind this initiative is to force tech-giants, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and many more, to pay taxes ‘fairly’, as most of them are headquartered either in the USA or in jurisdictions with low taxes, like Ireland. Because of that taxes are not distributed justly among the states, while those companies are benefiting from small markets as well, the supporting nations argue.
The idea of a unified global corporate tax is not new. During the Trump’s administration, the US strongly opposed it, but things have changed after the election of Joe Biden. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen favored the idea in April 2021 and suggested a global minimum to set at 21 percent. Although, later in June, she called on G20 states to impose a unified 15 percent.
Some argue that the shift in the US position – from opposing the idea to initiating it, was caused by the unilateral actions of big states, such as the UK, Franca, or India, which had started taxing tech giants.
All 136 states (see the list below), which make 90 percent of the world’s economy, have agreed not to impose any unilateral tax until 2023. The two-year period should be used by the legislators to ratify the treaty. Experts expect that ratification in the US Congress, where Democrats have a fragile majority, and even in many other countries will encounter many obstacles.
The countries with low taxes were against this initiative. Like Ireland or the Netherlands, which are now hosting dozens of international companies attracted by the low tax on profit. Most leading US tech giants are generating profit from these countries. But finally, they have also joined the statement.
Some countries bargained provisos like Hungary and China joined on the condition that in special circumstances they maintain the right to reduce the tax below 15 percent.
According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the global minimum tax agreement does not seek to eliminate tax competition but puts multilaterally agreed limitations on it.
The Pillar One of the Statement envisages re-allocation of some taxing rights over multinational enterprises (MNE) from their home countries to the markets where they have business activities and earn profits, regardless of whether firms have a physical presence there. Specifically, MNEs with global sales above EUR 20 billion and profitability above 10 percent will be covered by the new rules, with 25 percent of profit above the 10% threshold to be reallocated to market jurisdictions. This move is expected to re-distribute estimated $125 billion annually to new jurisdictions.
The Pillar Two sets a global minimum corporate tax rate at 15 percent. This will apply to companies with revenue above EUR 750 million and is believed to accumulate an additional $150 billion in global tax revenues annually.
A multilateral convention is planned for 2022 and, meanwhile, the OECD will develop models of how to help nations regarding the adaptation of domestic legislation. The ‘agreement will make our international tax arrangements fairer and work better, stated the Secretary-General of OECD Mathias Cormann, who thinks that this ‘major reform’ it is victory of multilateralism, which ensures that the international tax system ‘is fit for purpose in a digitalized and globalized economy’.
In parallel with OECD efforts and in light of the exposure of illicit assets by the Pandora Papers, the European Parliament has voted for tighter rules on the super-rich who move their wealth offshore, the British Guardian reported. According to the EU Tax Commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commission will present by the end of 2021 legislative proposals to tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion.
The European Parliament’s resolution does have a binding power over member states, taxation remains a subject of national competence, but the whole international tax system will become more transparent, argue the supporters of the initiative.
The EU is pushing a common code of conduct on business taxation, in order to avoid any race to the bottom in terms of taxes, among the member states. The group working on the reform of the code of conduct was also behind the introduction of the EU black list of tax havens back in 2017. Currently, there are nine countries were in the list: American Samoa, Fiji, Guam, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Trinidad & Tobago, US Virgin Islands, and Vanuatu. Three countries – Anguilla, Dominica, and Seychelles were removed on October 5.
The EU is interested in toughing controls on ‘golden visa’ and ‘golden passport’ programs as well. The European legislators are pushing governments to impose stricter regulations. Maltese and Cypriot citizenship by investment schemes have been the subject of Brussel’s critique for a long time. Cyprus suspended its ‘golden passport’ program in November 2020, but Malta has just reformed its scheme. Canceling Cyprus’ Investment Program was the only option for authorities after Al Jazeera’s exposure of wrongdoing and corruption in the program. Despite scandals surrounding the Maltese ‘golden passport’ scheme, Malta’s government just closed the program, citing the reach of the cap, and relaunched in a couple of months new citizenship by investment scheme with more tough residency requirements. But both countries keep the ‘golden visa’ schemes, like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and many more in the EU.
Reports from the international press indicate that the global tax system is not going to be the same again. So, is this the end of tax havens? Until 2023, it is not the end, but afterward, it might be, especially, if countries will introduce policies to make taxation more transparent and sign the treaty on minimum global corporate tax.
It is now time to analyze all developments and elaborate a strategically-wise tax strategy. Alternative residency or citizenship programs are good for many reasons, but tax residency also matters. Wealthy people need permanent consultations and advice to secure and diversify their wealth portfolio.
Countries Joining The Statement
5. Antigua & Barbuda
11. The Bahamas
19. Bosnia & Herzegovina
22. British Virgin Islands
23. Brunei Darussalam
25. Burkina Faso
26. Cabo Verde
29. Cayman Islands
34. Cook Islands
35. Costa Rica
36. Côte d’Ivoire
39. Czech Republic
44. Dominican Republic
48. Faroe Islands
61. Hong Kong, China
67. Isle of Man
81. Macau, China
94. New Zealand
95. North Macedonia
99. Papua New Guinea
107. Saint Kitts and Nevis
108. Saint Lucia
109. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
111. San Marino
112. Saudi Arabia
116. Sierra Leone
118. Slovak Republic
120. South Africa
126. Trinidad and Tobago
129. Turks and Caicos Islands
131. United Arab Emirates
132. United Kingdom
133. United States
135. Viet Nam