OECD's CTPA is the go-to body when it comes to
international tax matters, hence the centre's inclusion in this
year's list. And as its director, it is no surprise that Pascal
Saint-Amans retains his place in the top 10 of our Global Tax
50, a position he has held since 2012 – the year in
which he replaced
Jeffrey Owens as CTPA director.
Saint-Amans was also in the Global Tax 50
The Frenchman discusses a hectic, but productive, year with
International Tax Review's Matthew Gilleard.
International Tax Review: When the BEPS project
was announced, it's fair to say many were sceptical of your
chances of meeting such ambitious deadlines. Are you proud of
the BEPS team's achievements in delivering on the 2014 action
Pascal Saint-Amans: I think we're pretty
happy that we were able to deliver on time, and more
importantly than being on time, what we have delivered is real
We are pleased with the comments in the tax press that this
was real and not stuff just to say "we are meeting the
deadlines" when actually what was produced was watered down. We
haven't watered anything down. On the contrary, some is more
ambitious than we initially thought, like the minimum standard
on treaty abuse, or the content of the
country-by-country reporting (CbCR) is, I think significant
and very ambitious and, more holistically, I would say that I'm
very impressed by the commitment of the countries involved,
including the new ones.
But as for being proud or happy, let's leave that until the
end of 2015. We have to complete the action plan,
so we are only at halfway.
ITR: Finding consensus on tax issues is
notoriously difficult. By increasing engagement with developing
countries – an area the OECD has been criticised over
in the past – you have made this task even harder. Are
you pleased with the levels of engagement you have
PSA: We can do better. We try to do better.
It's a real challenge.
I'm sometimes a bit frustrated by comments saying "you're
not achieving anything because developing countries are not on
an equal footing", which I think is a bit unfair because what
is being done will have very positive spillover effects on
developing countries and everybody knows that.
But, that said, I do think that we need to do better. And
that's why we will now, in the second phase,
better include developing countries, move more
institutionally in terms of having these regional networks,
better acknowledge the specific needs of developing countries
and better work with the other international organisations
under the G20 umbrella, and outside of the G20 umbrella. So we
need to do better there, but we are firmly engaged to do
We had to absorb the G20 non-OECD countries, eight of them
plus Colombia, which is an accession country to the OECD. What
is amazing is that we have done that in one year and I think we
have very, very good levels of involvement in terms of input,
in terms of engagement, and we now need to be successful in the
way we are engaging developing countries and recognising
– and that's the difficulty – that it's a
large constituency, it's not a homogenous one, and countries
are sovereign, so you can't have one country speaking on behalf
of others. It's a big challenge, but it's part of what we have
ITR: What are your views on the role that other
multilateral bodies such as the IMF and UN Tax Committee play,
or could play, in international taxation?
PSA: One of the things I am proud of
– to use that word that I don't like much otherwise
– is to have the UN observer to the committee on
fiscal affairs (CFA). That's the first thing I did when I
started as director; I got that done and I'm extremely happy
that we're having a good relationship. We're not just talking
about one committee, but the UN as a whole; the UN is more
complex and much richer than just one committee, even though
the [UN Tax] committee is extremely relevant for the work we're
doing. So the UN has a key role to play in voicing the concerns
of developing countries, and the UN is very present with that
extra focus, present in most of our meetings.
We do think that the
IMF and the World Bank have a key role to play in the tax
policy analysis for the IMF, in capacity building for the IMF
and the World Bank and we are very glad to work with them on
all that through the G20 development working group. But the
regional tax organisations are growing and are playing a more
important role, and that's very good. We have many projects
with CIAT, with ATAF, and we are accompanying the Australians,
the Singaporeans the Koreans and others to try
to grow SGATAR. So international tax has never been higher
on the agenda, because there is a need for cooperation and
having all these bodies working together, and I think we are
working all together in a pretty sensible manner.
ITR: Looking ahead to 2015, now. We know we are
only halfway through the BEPS project and much work lies ahead.
What is going to be the biggest challenge next year?
PSA: Everything is a challenge. Whatever
way you formulate that question, the answer is that everything
is a big challenge.
Ensuring the implementation of the 2014 measures, such as
the implementation of country-by-country reporting, is a big
challenge. On the 2015 deliverables, I mean, you can take them
all. CFC – extremely difficult. You take the interest
deductibility – extremely difficult. You take the
definition of the permanent establishment – extremely
difficult. You move to the hardcore aspects of transfer pricing
and risk recharacterisation – extremely difficult. You
take the mutual agreement procedure, countries are very nervous
about their sovereignty and are reluctant to make progress and
we badly need to make progress there – it's extremely
difficult. Developing a multilateral convention – wow,
what a challenge. But we are moving there. So I'm not sure I
would single one out. Action 11, tax policy analysis, how can
we get a better intelligence of the dynamic of corporate income
tax in a globalised environment – extremely difficult,
extremely interesting, and extremely challenging.
So there's not a single one that is not difficult. And I
would like to add another one: the post-BEPS environment. How
do you ensure countries move in a manner which will not disrupt
investments, which will be coordinated, where there is some
form of, if not monitoring, at least understanding of what is
going on so that we don't, as we did in the past, issue
recommendations and nobody is watching what happens to it.
There have been commitments, so how do these translate into
fact? What's the impact on double non-taxation and double
taxation? So that's another challenge that is ahead of us.
ITR: To what extent does unilateral action to
implement anti-base erosion measures hinder your work to find
global solutions? Do national measures along these lines
PSA: The answer is yes, we are concerned.
And that's why we have launched the BEPS action plan, because
countries were about to move in on their own and we helped all
the countries to move in a coordinated manner. Probably not
good enough, but probably better than the OECD not doing
anything for the past two years. What would have happened? I
don't know, that's speculation. But assuming that we would have
pretended everything is fine and the rules work perfectly, I'm
not sure we would be in the position where you have 44
countries around the table trying to negotiate and commit to
doing things – but that is speculation.
ITR: What lies in store for Pascal Saint-Amans
post-BEPS? Have you had a chance to think that far ahead?
PSA: Going surfing, going out with family,
a real life. No, I'm kidding. We have touched on the reality.
It's about ensuring that countries which have committed to a
number of things move in a consistent manner so that we delete
the frictions and we don't end up with double taxation. I think
the key is that we ensure we have a better regulated
environment in the form of tax regulation that we are
ITR: What is the overriding message you want to
pass on to the tax world right now?
PSA: We are working hard to get an
international tax framework which will be more sustainable
because it will eliminate double taxation more sustainably,
more globally and it will not create opportunities for double
non-taxation, so I think that's what we're working hard on. And
it's difficult. We understand that the world is in transition
and there is more uncertainty, which is unpleasant for
investors, but on the other hand if we don't try to bring that
form of regulation, the uncertainty will not go away. Or if it
goes away it will be at the cost of double or multiple
taxation, so we're just trying to do the right thing in an
extremely difficult and challenging environment.