Will Morris was also in the
Global Tax 50
Will Morris is becoming a regular in the Global Tax 50, with
this entry representing his fourth appearance. 'Boring, boring
ITR', we hear you cry. But it is hard to change the
record when Morris is such an obvious leading light in terms of
representing the views of businesses on tax policy
developments. Many in the industry would welcome more business
figures following Morris' example and taking a more proactive
approach to engaging in discussion of corporate tax issues,
rather than staying beneath the parapets and working purely
reactively. This is changing, and businesses have engaged with
calls for submissions on potential reforms, but truly visible
characters like Morris who regularly share their views are
still in relatively short supply.
Away from his in-house responsibilities, Morris' role as
chairman of the BIAC Tax and Fiscal Affairs Committee has meant
a heavy involvement in the OECD's BEPS processes. This made
2015 a busy year for Morris, with the final BEPS
recommendations being released in October. Here he speaks to
Joelle Jefferis about the continuing need to keep the business
community united and why the release of final recommendations
is far from the end of the road on BEPS.
International Tax Review: What was your proudest
achievement of 2015?
Will Morris: My proudest achievement of last year, which was
the achievement for the year before as well, is managing to
keep the business community pretty much together and engaged. I
think I've said this before and it sounds a bit sappy, but I am
absolutely staggered at how many people put so much time into
writing comments and to coming to Paris to engage with the
process. This isn't a lot of peoples' day job and the amount of
effort that the business community put in to trying to
understand firstly, where the OECD was coming from, but
secondly, from where other people in business might have
slightly different needs and concerns, and how they can
accommodate those; I think has been remarkable.
I don't think anybody thought when this process started that
not only would the OECD be able to produce what they produced,
but also that the business community would in any way at all be
able to present a united front and produce such detailed
comments. That's been great and it's not my achievement, it's
been the whole business community.
ITR: How did you achieve this level of unity?
WM: This was achieved through a lot of meetings, a lot of
calls and a lot of drafts. We did some of our venting in
private before we got out in public; it's important that people
have their say and, to a certain extent, express their anger if
that's how they're feeling. Then there's need to move beyond
that and to see how we can come up with something that is
ITR: Were you able to create something
constructive for the business community with BEPS?
WM: There are some areas where people think that BIAC in
general, and myself in particular, have been far too soft on
the OECD. But BEPS was coming, and when the G20 and a group of
other countries committed to targeting, as they see it, tax
abuse, I think we had to engage with that.
We had to show that we are prepared to be constructive
because this was a case where the rules were going to get made
either with us or without us. I'd rather that the rules got
made with us and that we had a stake in the process. I think
that willingness to constructively engage during this difficult
first phase is going to be important moving forward, as we come
to look at the issues like implementation and the role that
business can play in helping to monitor implementation, to
prevent overlaps, discontinuities, and hopefully some cases of
unilateral action. I think it's stood us in good stead. I know
some people would have liked us to have adopted a harder-edged
approach but I don't think that would have got business to a
ITR: What is the focus for you in 2016?
WM: There are a number of areas in BEPS where, despite the
fact that high level consensus has been reached, I don't think
there has been agreement in detail, and therefore those details
need to be filled out. One of the most obvious ones is in
permanent establishment (PE). A lot of the work for 2016 is
going to be to continue to look at the recommendations and, not
to refine them in a policy sense, but to expand out their
meaning and to provide more detail.
The focus then is continuing to build out the detail of the
recommendations, it's paying very close attention to
implementation, and engaging at the national level with
national governments to try and ensure consistency, and its
watching what will actually happen on the ground with the tax
authorities and how they use BEPS.
ITR: Will it be possible to keep business voices
united through the implementation phase?
WM: The concern I have is that this is a football game and
we're only at this point coming on at the second half. There is
a fatigue for a lot of people and in certain companies there
are cost pressures. It is going to be difficult for some people
to maintain their focus on BEPS. But it's really important that
they do, because this is where the rubber hits the road, and if
this is the point where you take your eye off the ball there is
the danger that there is going to be inconsistent
implementation and then we're going to be in even more trouble
than previously. So I really do hope that businesses remain
engaged, even if a lot of that engagement is on a national
level and I hope they'll stay in touch with BIAC and let us
know what is going on.