Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - 22 February 2020
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Minister Al-Jadaan, Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking the Saudi Presidency and Minister Al-Jadaan for hosting this Symposium, which comes at the right time. International taxation has never been that high on the global political agenda, and has never attracted so much attention from people and citizens.
First, this Symposium will allow us to take stock of what has been achieved in the past decade, that is, huge progress towards tax transparency. The end of bank secrecy for tax purposes was announced at the London G20 summit, in 2009. Although it may have seemed a premature announcement back then, today we can say that it has become a reality. Last year, exchanges of information on about 50 million bank accounts took place among 95 countries and jurisdictions, representing a value of almost EUR 5 trillion. This is nothing less than the biggest information exchange in history.
I look forward to discussing with you what has been the impact of the development of exchange of tax information in your countries, and how we can collectively work for greater transparency. This is important not only within the G20, but also beyond – Minister Al-Jadaan rightly stressed the global character of this work, as the membership of the OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes continues to increase.
Second, we will have the opportunity to debate over a challenging, some would say “hot” topic. Addressing the tax challenges arising from the digitalisation of the economy. The G20/OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting – BEPS – which is by now one of the few tax acronyms well known beyond tax administrations – is currently working hard towards the technical features of what we hope will be, at the end, a global solution to the critical issue of tax and digitalisation.
There again, the issue is truly global with 137 member countries and jurisdictions negotiating together on an equal footing. The task is not easy. Indeed, what we are aiming at is, to some extent at least, a redefinition of the international tax architecture. We are revisiting a number of fundamental principles and notions that have underpinned the international tax system for decades, such as physical presence and permanent establishment. We are potentially redefining the allocation of taxing rights across jurisdictions. In so doing, we want to give back to governments the ability to tax companies doing business in their jurisdictions, while providing businesses with more - no less - tax certainty and predictability.
These are no trivial or simple matters! We are therefore committed to do whatever we can to facilitate reaching a consensus, and help countries to compromise. A coordinated answer is the only way forward. Multilateralism has proven to be the most effective model on international tax matters, on tax transparency and on tax avoidance. We can, and we must, build on these successes to find a global solution to the challenges of tax and digitalisation and stop a proliferation of unilateral measures, with the inevitable trade and investment tensions that would follow.
I trust that the discussions in this Symposium will be very fruitful, and will feed the international tax session of the Finance Ministers’ meeting tomorrow. Thanking again the Saudi Presidency for organising it and inviting us, I wish you all a successful event. Thank you.