Centre for Tax Policy and Administration

Financial centres become more transparent, but information exchange remains a problem for some


29/09/2008 - Advances are being achieved in bringing greater transparency to financial centres around the world, but progress on exchange of information on tax issues is more limited, according to OECD’s latest report on its drive to bring more fairness to cross-border tax co-operation.

Tax Co-operation 2008: Towards a Level Playing Field: Assessment by the Global Forum on Taxation notes that a number of countries have improved the availability of ownership information and access to bank information for tax purposes. However, only a small number of offshore financial centres have expanded their network of exchange-of-information agreements. The Isle of Man which today announced the signing of a new tax information exchange agreement with the United Kingdom leads the way and has now signed 11 such agreements.

Significant restrictions on access to bank information for tax purposes remain in three OECD countries – Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland – and in a number of offshore financial centres, including Liechtenstein, Panama and Singapore. Further, a number of offshore financial centres that committed to implement the standards on transparency and the effective exchange of information developed by the OECD’s Global Forum on Taxation have failed to follow through.

The 2008 Assessment is the third in a series of reports by the OECD’s Global Forum on Taxation reviewing how far the OECD’s standards of transparency and effective exchange of information are being implemented in 83 OECD and non OECD economies. Among other things, it notes that:

  • Sixty-six new Double Tax Conventions (DTCs) and four new Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) have entered into force. In addition, 17 TIEAs have been signed since the beginning of 2007, including nine signed by the Isle of Man.
  • Eleven of the 83 economies still do not have tax information exchange agreements in the form of DTCs or TIEAs that are either signed or in force. 
  • Seventy-eight of the 83 economies are able to obtain and provide banking information in response to a request for information in criminal tax matters in some or all cases. 
  • Belgium now exchanges bank information on request for civil and criminal tax matters under its new DTC with the United States. Under legislation that took effect in January 2008, tax authorities in Malta can now access bank information for the purpose of exchanging information in tax matters where reciprocal arrangements. 
  • Bearer shares, which are often used as a way of avoiding taxation by concealing ownership, have been eliminated in Cyprus, Belgium and the United States, while Samoa immobilised bearer shares with the result that their owners can now be identified.
  • In Andorra, new laws require all companies to file accounts with a government authority. Public and limited companies must have their accounts audited where they exceed certain thresholds with respect to assets, turnover and numbers of employees.

The Global Forum and individual countries will now need to consider how countries that are making progress have their efforts recognised and responded to positively and countries that are not making progress do not benefit as a result.

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Jeffrey Owens, Director of OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration (tel.: + 331 45 24 91 08). Tax Co-operation 2008: Towards a Level Playing Field: Assessment by the Global Forum on Taxation is available to journalists on the protected site and from the OECD’s Media Division (tel.+ 33 1 45 24 97 00). An overview of the OECD’s work on international tax evasion is available here.

Please also see www.oecd.org/ctp/eoi.


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