|Pascal Saint-Amans and Achim Pross was also in the Global Tax 50 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011|
Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the centre for tax policy and administration (CTPA) at the OECD, who is often recognised as the face of the OECD on tax matters and the BEPS project, while Achim Pross, head of the international cooperation and tax administration division at the OECD, is one of the key individuals behind the scenes working on many high-level projects like the common reporting standard (CRS), the international compliance assurance programme (ICAP) and most of the BEPS work.
International Tax Review caught up with them to see how they feel the project has fared in 2017, and their desire to bring tax certainty to the fore.
The multifaceted OECD/G20 BEPS project has seen substantial progress throughout the year. More than 100 countries and jurisdictions – accounting for more than 93% of global GDP – are taking some part in the project. As of June 2017, 68 countries and jurisdictions had joined the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures, known more simply as the multilateral instrument or MLI. Data collected by the OECD shows that these measures are already having an impact and for the first time global statistics from Action 14 have been released to "drill down" on progress made by each country by comparing their advancements, which Pross says will drive a lot of future progress.
Continuing efforts to ensure the full adoption of the inclusive framework has been one of the main aims for Saint-Amans and Pross, and both have been in high-profile meetings to shape the final rules and set specifications for the systems required to deliver it.
Pross, just stepping out of a meeting on the same subject, tells ITR that the preparation of the consultation documents for the mandatory disclosure rules for the CRS avoidance arrangements are underway. "We are actively working on mandatory disclosure rules for CRS avoidance arrangements and also structures, which leads quite currently to the Paradise Papers where there's an increased political focus on the role of intermediaries and what should be done," says Pross. "Those rules are being shaped right now."
He also highlights the launch of the common transmissions system, created in the Forum on Tax Administration, which went live in September, and the first countries delivering their CRS information as the biggest achievements of this year. "It's quite remarkable that we had 48-50 countries coming together to all work, fund and approve one common standardised transmissions system, which without that we don't think we could have delivered on the actual implementation of the CRS," Pross says.
For Saint-Amans, it is the institutional framework and the inclusive framework that have been the most prominent milestones for this year. He tells ITR that when the OECD first launched the BEPS package a little more than two years ago in November 2015, the feedback was to ensure implementation and to be inclusive. This has been achieved, with more than 100 countries, many of which are developing countries, signed up to the inclusive framework and the implementation of the four minimum standards. "The highlights beyond the inclusive framework – which nobody believed we could do two years ago – would be the signing of the multilateral instrument, which we've had 71 countries now sign, some of which have even ratified," Saint-Amans says.
As the director of the CTPA, Saint-Amans's job is to anticipate the trends and initiate them. Nearly 10 years ago he proposed the work on transparency to advance the efforts being made to expose financial secrecy. Then, in 2012, he proposed investigating base erosion and profit shifting to identify all the schemes that have since been heard about in the LuxLeaks, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers. "We were the first ones to denounce all that and take proper action. We now need to anticipate the fact that once you equip tax administrations with the right tools you also need to keep the balance right and my anticipation is that we need to expand to developing countries, which is what I did with the finance minister of Cameroon recently," Saint-Amans says.
He tells ITR that tax certainty will be the next trend in international taxation, and that this will be determined by the work on BEPS. When equipping tax administrations with better instruments to fight tax avoidance, it's important to ensure that these tools aren't abused. That's why he proposed to the G20 two years ago the work on tax certainty, which comes with very concrete initiatives like the ICAP. Saint-Amans expects the trends to be about keeping the balance right on implementation for the exchange of information, BEPS and tax policy, which the G20 has agreed to put very high on the agenda.
"On BEPS, and especially when you put it together with our tax certainty agenda, the objective really is to move sustainably to a global taxation framework that eliminates double non-taxation but is equally strong on the avoidance of double taxation," adds Pross. "That is the overarching narrative of much of what we have done in 2017 and plan to advance in 2018. It means creating certainty, simplifying the rules, processes and removing tax obstacles, so that compliant, low-risk MNEs can get on with business."
Pross thinks the OECD has made tremendous progress on its objectives. "Similarly, on automatic exchange of information we need to balance transparency with privacy and data protection rules. Here, the progress in terms of global adoption and implementation has been nothing short of breath-taking with the first 48 countries exchanging financial account information for the first time in September."
"Using a common transmission system that commissioners from the now 50 members of the Forum on Tax Administration, bringing together OECD and G20 countries, jointly funded and developed. And most importantly we see that behaviour is changing with an increasing number of taxpayers becoming compliant with their foreign assets and already over €85 billion ($101 billion) collected through various disclosure initiatives in different countries around the world."
It would be far too difficult to highlight all of Saint-Amans and Pross's significant work but as two of the most prominent figures in international taxation they are driving the tax agenda forward to shape a more transparent and fairer tax landscape in the future.
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