Global Tax 50 2015: Will Morris
Global tax policy director, GE; chairman, BIAC Tax and Fiscal Affairs Committee
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 constructive.
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 helpful place.
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.
The Global Tax 50 2015
The top 10 • Ranked in order of influence
3. Wang Jun
7. Ian Read
The remaining 40 • In alphabetic order