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(Edited Image Courtesy:  OECD)
 
Our action has had a very concrete impact. First, you and other countries in the world have recovered taxes which had been defrauded for too long,” says a report from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Secretary General (SG), Angel Gurría.
The report on OECD/G20’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) & related projects, submitted last month to The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, adds: “The very high profile of our work against tax fraud and tax avoidance has brought tax matters to the boardrooms and is having a massive impact”.
Have BEPS & related projects indeed delivered dazzling results? OECD, the projects proponent, would like the world to believe so. 
G20 has, however, avoided endorsing success story as detailed out by SG’s report. International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also avoided optimism over BEPS outcome. It is here pertinent to cite IMF’s G-20 Surveillance Note issued last month.
As put by the Note, “There is an urgent need for a cooperative multilateral approach to reform the current system of international corporate taxation to address tax competition and reign in prevalent profit shifting by multinationals”.
SG Report’s claim about shifts in financial flows should have shored up transparent bank deposits in certain countries, leading to more lending, investments & taxation.
The Report’s claim regarding additional tax revenue should have translated into enhanced tax revenue of benefiting countries. There should have been some disclosures by respective Governments on BEPS-linked financial benefits reaped by them. Data on these parameters should be gathered to evaluate thoroughly the impact of OECD projects.
The ultimate test of BEPS & allied projects is the transformation of additional revenue into global economic growth. It should have accelerated noticeably by now.
The growth situation, on the contrary, continues to be a cause for worry. Have certain factors such as growing protectionism offset the benefits flowing from OECD projects?
Global growth in 2019 has been downgraded to 2.6 per cent, 0.3 percentage point below previous forecasts, reflecting weaker-than-expected international trade and investment at the start of the year”, says the World Bank’s ‘Global Economic Prospects Heightened Tensions, Subdued Investment’ report released in first week of June.
The key successes mentioned by OECD SG’s report are:
 1) Bank secrecy for tax purposes no longer exists. All financial centres are now engaged in the automatic exchange of financial information through OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS).
As a result, 47 million offshore accounts – with a total value of around 4.9 Trillion Euros – have been exchanged for the first time. This level of transparency in tax matters is unprecedented. It ensures that those assets will never escape detection. 
2) About 34% decline, aggregating to USD 551 billion, in bank deposits at international financial centres (IFCs) over the past ten years. A large part of that decline is due to the onset of the automatic exchange of information by tax administrations. 
The Report says: “Our action has had a very concrete impact. First, you and other countries in the world have recovered taxes which had been defrauded for too long”.
3) Voluntary disclosure of concealed assets and income by taxpayers has so resulted in additional revenue (as tax, interest, penalties) of EUR 97 billion. SG’s report believes this amount would stabilize and countries will annually collect taxes on the income generated by the disclosed assets.
4) 21,000 previously secret tax rulings have now been exchanged. This implies that companies can no longer negotiate secret, sweetheart deals which would deprive other countries of their revenues.
5) Over 250 Preferential tax regimes have been reviewed since 2015. Harmful ones, that allowed multinational corporations (MNCs) to avoid taxes on global operations, have been either been amended or abolished.
As put by the Report, “Around the world, harmful regimes can no longer be used by countries to attract the tax base from other countries by targeting non-residents and foreign income only”.
6) The OECD/UNDP ‘Tax Inspectors Without Borders project’ has been a major success story, helping developing countries raise USD 470 million in additional tax revenue since its launch in 2015.
That BEPS & allied projects have had limited impact on economy is implicit in OECD-IMF’s ‘2019 Progress Report on Tax Certainty’. This Report notes that BEPS has made “significant progress in bringing more substance, coherence and transparency to the international tax system, but most of the fundamentals of the international corporate tax system remained unchanged”.
OECD success story has thus not found an echo in G20 Summit Declaration issued on 29th June. The Declaration merely notes: “We reaffirm the importance of the worldwide implementation of the G20/OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) package and enhanced tax certainty”. 
It continues: “We welcome the recent progress on addressing the tax challenges arising from digitalization and endorse the ambitious work program that consists of a two-pillar approach, developed by the Inclusive Framework on BEPS. We will redouble our efforts for a consensus-based solution with a final report by 2020”.
G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, have, however, shared OECD's exuberance with muted tone
In a communiqué issued after their two-day meeting held during first fortnight of June, they reaffirmed the importance of the worldwide implementation of the BEPS package and enhanced tax certainty. 
As put by communiqué, “We welcome the recent achievements on tax transparency, including the progress on automatic exchange of financial account information for tax purposes”.
It says: “We also welcome an updated list of jurisdictions that have not satisfactorily implemented the internationally agreed tax transparency standards. We look forward to a further update by the OECD of the list that takes into account all of the strengthened criteria. Defensive measures will be considered against listed jurisdictions
They urged all jurisdictions to sign and ratify the multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.
Even IMF’s top brass is guarded in its comments. Acknowledging progress in BEPS Project, IMF Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa says: “the international tax system remains uneven” due to two reasons.
Addressing a tax conference on 25th April 2019, Mr Furusawa observed: “First, profit shifting is still a problem. Limitations of the arm’s-length principle – and reliance on notions of physical presence of the taxpayer to establish a legal basis to impose income tax – have allowed apparently profitable firms to pay little tax”.
He cited unresolved tax competition as second and equally important reason. He stated: “Views differ as to whether tax competition may be appropriate in certain contexts. But for low-income and developing countries, we see all too clearly the damage that tax competition can do to much-needed revenues”.
Similarly, European Parliament has drawn attention to certain limitations of BEPS project. In a resolution on ‘financial crimes, tax evasion and tax avoidance’ dated 26th March 2019, it noted that the degree of willingness and commitment to cooperate on the BEPS 15-point action plan varies among countries and the particular actions concerned. BEPS project did not factor in the implications of corporate rate tax cuts. 
European Parliament has thus called for global summit to launch a second set of international tax reforms as a follow-up to BEPS and to set up an intergovernmental tax body.
Asian Development Bank (ADB), prefers wait and watch mode. It agrees that global tax transparency is likely to decrease the risk of tax evasion on ADB projects.
In a report titled ‘Policy Implementation Review: the Role of the Asian Development Bank in Relation to Tax Integrity’ issued during December 2018, ADB notes: “It remains to be seen how countries will implement anti-BEPS measures and how these will impact ADB’s loans and equity investments. The tax IDD (integrity due diligence) guidelines are sufficiently flexible to respond to such global developments across complex, non-repetitive transaction structures”.
All said & done, measuring verifiable impact of BEPS & allied projects is complex job. And this has been admitted by three senior experts from OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration in their joint paper published in United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD's) Journal on Transnational Corporations during September 2018.
The Paper says: “any attempt to produce an empirical estimate of the global revenue impacts of BEPS faces a range of significant challenges. On the one hand, any empirical approach is constrained by the fact that currently available data sources suffer from various shortcomings”.
The Paper notes that a large number of assumptions are necessary, depending on the types of data used in the econometric analysis. On the other hand, a number of analytical issues remain. Two key issues are: Disentangling BEPS from real economic activity and identifying tax rate variable that is “best suited to capturing the incentives to engage in BEPS”.
 
Published by taxindiainernational.com on 8th July 2019
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