PRO Business MS

Accounting and Finance

NO MORE TAX HEAVEN ?!

Negotiators were on the brink of agreeing to the rate on Thursday, ahead of a Friday meeting at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has been coordinating the global tax talks. The tax rate has been the subject of months of intense negotiations. If enacted, it could help end a decades-long race to the bottom on corporate taxation that has allowed tax havens to flourish and has drained countries of revenue.

Governments have for years been discussing such a tax overhaul; the negotiations gained momentum this year under the Biden administration, which is also pursuing changes to its domestic corporate tax rate. The framework under consideration includes a global minimum tax of 15 percent that each country would adopt, and new rules that would force technology giants like Amazon and Facebook and other big global businesses to pay taxes in countries where their goods or services are sold, even if they have no physical presence there.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, negotiators have been grappling over the language of a joint statement describing the tax rate, exceptions for certain kinds of companies and the implementation period, which some nations want to be drawn out for years. European holdouts such as Ireland, Estonia and Hungary have been under intense pressure in recent months to join the agreement, which will require the approval of the 27 European Union countries.

After weeks of heated negotiations and pressure from the United States and France, Ireland, a main holdout to the deal, said it was ready to accept a 15 percent minimum tax rate after Prime Minister Micheal Martin told the Irish cabinet Thursday that the rate would only apply to multinational giants like Facebook and Apple, but not to Irish companies operating in Ireland.

“I do believe, where we are now is balanced and represents a fair compromise, reflecting the interests and input of the many countries involved in the negotiation,” Pascal Donohoe, Ireland’s finance minister, 

At stake has been Ireland’s low official corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent and a tax system that has helped global companies based there avoid paying taxes to other countries where they make profits. This has put billions of euros into Ireland’s tax coffers and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Mr. Donohoe said that small domestic companies with annual revenue of less than 750 million euros would be exempt from the higher tax, or 160,000 businesses in Ireland.

Estonia also signed on to the 15 percent rate on Thursday, according to a post on Twitter by Mathias Cormann, the secretary general of the O.E.C.D.

How much tax heaven costs?

Until the 2008 financial crisis, tax havens were generally seen as exotic sideshows to the global economy, Caribbean islands or Alpine financial fortresses frequented by celebrities, gangsters, and wealthy aristocrats. Since then, the world has woken up to two sobering facts: first, the phenomenon is far bigger and more central to the global economy than nearly anyone had imagined; and second, the biggest havens aren’t where we thought they were.

Tax havens collectively cost governments between $500 billion and $600 billion a year in lost corporate tax revenue, depending on the estimate (Crivelli, de Mooij, and Keen 2015; Cobham and Janský 2018), through legal and not-so-legal means. Of that lost revenue, low-income economies account for some $200 billion—a larger hit as a percentage of GDP than advanced economies and more than the $150 billion or so they receive each year in foreign development assistance. American Fortune 500 companies alone held an estimated $2.6 trillion offshore in 2017, though a small portion of that has been repatriated following US tax reforms in 2018.

Corporations aren’t the only beneficiaries. Individuals have stashed $8.7 trillion in tax havens, estimates Gabriel Zucman (2017), an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. Economist and lawyer James S. Henry’s (2016) more comprehensive estimates yield an astonishing total of up to $36 trillion. Both, assuming very different rates of return, put global individual income tax losses at around $200 billion a year, which must be added to the corporate total.