Last year, International Tax Review considered Pascal Saint-Amans to be the most influential person in corporate tax. He has been pushed down to second place, not because he is any less influential this year, but because of the impact that the Starbucks, Amazon and Google tax scandals have had.
He is still, however - as head of the OECD’s centre for tax policy and administration - spearheading the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project.
The action plan for BEPS, which has the potential to transform transfer pricing policies for governments and taxpayers, is broken down into 15 action points on areas such as the digital economy, hybrid mismatches, transfer pricing and transparency. Saint-Amans believes it will mean the end of “the golden age of “we don’t pay taxes anywhere””.
Globalisation and the digital economy have allowed companies to be increasingly mobile.
“These developments have been exacerbated by the increasing sophistication of tax planners in identifying and exploiting the legal arbitrage opportunities and the boundaries of acceptable tax planning, thus providing MNEs with more confidence in taking aggressive tax positions,” the action plan states.
The OECD has vowed to deliver guidance on BEPS within two years but many taxpayers are critical of this promise, considering the intangibles project - which is only one aspect of BEPS - has been in process for more than five years now.
Saint-Amans says while people have called the OECD crazy for attempting such large scale reform in two years, he believes it can and must be done within this timeframe.
“We are funded by taxpayer money and we need to move fast, and there is a political consensus right now to drive the change. Political leaders have agreed about this so following a top-down approach, I think it is now time for the technocrats like me simply to get on and make it happen,” Saint-Amans said, whilst speaking at the Irish Tax Institute’s global tax policy conference in October.
“In the next two years we will deliver. We delivered on banking secrecy and on BEPS we will deliver too.”
To date, there is little indication about how OECD BEPS guidance will affect taxpayers and tax administration but the certainty is that it will impact global tax significantly.
One concern for Saint-Amans is, however, the actions of independent countries, such as France and Australia, to combat BEPS, before guidance by the OECD is released.
“If we do not act quickly, countries will begin to draft their own guidance,” says Saint-Amans.
If countries begin to draft their own guidance, rather than follow a consensus, this may create more problems for international taxpayers.
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