It has been a busy year for Will Morris who has been heavily
involved in the OECD's BEPS project. Here he talks to
ITR about presenting the views of business on a united
front before the OECD, battling ambitious timetables and the
importance of narrowing down the scope of the BEPS work to
|Will Morris was
also in the Global Tax 50
International Tax Review: What has your greatest
achievement been this year? What are you most proud of?
Will Morris: I'd say my greatest
achievement – although I need to emphasise very
strongly that it has totally been a team effort – has
been largely keeping the business community together and all on
the same page. Managing to produce consensus BIAC comments on
the papers which came out in the first stage of BEPS was a good
outcome. I was surprised this happened, but everyone pulled
together. This doesn't mean there is agreement on everything
but it does mean we are a more effective voice.
This achievement was largely down to open communication,
making sure that everybody felt they had a real voice in the
process, and getting to what the heart of the issues were. As I
said it has been a huge team effort. The fact that the project
was driven by lots of people from lots of different countries,
and not just one or two people, has made for a much better
ITR: What has been the biggest challenge for you
WM: The biggest challenge for me this year
has been keeping the business community together, and keeping
the channels of consultation with OECD and national governments
open. It is very much the flipside of the achievement. Keeping
the lines of communication open with business and OECD was a
considerable challenge, given how tight the OECD BEPS timetable
is. There has been a huge amount of work to do over a very
short period of time. This puts pressure on people and means
they don't often have the time to talk. Part of my job has been
to convince people that they do still have time to talk and
that it is time well spent.
ITR: What were the issues that concerned you most
WM: The issues that have concerned me most
this year all relate to the BEPS timetable with everything
having to be done in such a short time. This has had an effect
on the scope of some of the projects. For example, it was clear
in the hybrids project that the original scope did not take
account of the use by banks of regulatory hybrid capital.
ITR: Have these issues been resolved? What more
needs to be done?
WM: I give real credit to the OECD for
realising that some items needed more work. I think what we saw
with phase one of BEPS was that a number of difficult issues
were allocated more time for resolution. The OECD have given
themselves another six months to deal with some aspects of
hybrid mismatches, which will allow more time to work out
implementation details. The same is true on country-by-country
reporting. But time and scope remain a challenge. The big
projects this year will be interest deductibility, permanent
establishment and intangibles. We need to focus on what the
problems really are so that we can bring all our energies
together to reach a targeted, workable solution rather than to
try and answer every conceivable question.
ITR: What do you feel have been the most
significant tax related events this year? Why?
WM: It has to be the BEPS project and the
release of the papers. The fact that there continues to be, at
G20 level, a significant amount of political support for this
project means the tax landscape really has changed. I don't
think you can overstate the significance of that. Tax, as a
policy issue, is now of broad political and public concern. And
that is here to stay.
ITR: What do you think should be the main focus
next year? What do you hope to see happen?
WM: Obviously, BEPS. We need to look into
whether we can get the scope of the projects narrowed down so
that we can achieve success in the areas where we really need
to achieve success without trying to do too much.
As BIAC (and business more generally) we need to ensure we
are talking to the OECD and governments, encouraging them to
come up with consensus recommendations, and preventing
unilateralism. I worry about fatigue in the business community
with the intensive engagement that BEPS demands. But we do need
to stay engaged to make sure that the recommendations are not
only targeted, but are also technically sound and, most
importantly, promote rather than inhibit cross-border trade and
investment. And I'm going to do my best to ensure that