Thursday, 10 January 2013

FATCA will/will not work: discuss

TJN ran two stories recently on FATCA's impact on tax competition. Which is right?

Story #1 says Austria and Luxembourg "may be forced to abandon banking secrecy because, in agreeing to implement FATCA with the US:
"EU member states could impose [automatic information exchange] on these two recalcitrant jurisdictions by invoking the 'most favoured nation' clause, explains Pascal Saint-Amans of the OECD."
 EU Directive 2011/16/EU contains a most favoured nation clause: if a Member State provides wider cooperation to a third country than that provided for under the directive it may not refuse such wider cooperation to another Member State that requests it on its own behalf."
So if these countries provide automatic information exchange to the U.S., then they are not allowed to refuse it to other E.U. member states.
TJN says thanks to FATCA, "the all-important amendments to the EU Savings Tax Directive are therefore likely to be passed this year, and Swiss efforts to torpedo this transparency initiative will have failed." Conclusion: FATCA will turn into its ultimately goal, a global tracing system under which no one can hide behind bank secrecy to evade their taxes, what some like to call GATCA.

Story #2 says Hong Kong is set to grab all the tax haven business:
Hong Kong just became an even better place for company directors who value secrecy. The Chinese territory, already ranked fourth in a list of 71 "secrecy jurisdictions" by the Tax Justice Network, has proposed new laws making it harder to identify the directors of non-public companies.
TJN says in response: "Tax havens. As we have said - this is where real power in the world increasingly lies. And the race to the bottom on secrecy continues apace."

If FATCA will shut Austria and Luxembourg as tax havens, why not Hong Kong?

The IGAs don't, I think, really explain things: in the absence of IGAs, FATCA is supposed to apply directly to all foreign financial institutions.  So it is the IGAs that would change the scene on the EU directive.  These agreements, let's be fair, really don't have a single thing to do with the FATCA statute from a legal perspective.  In other words, no one in the world needs FATCA to order into an agreement on automatic information exchange, countries could have (and in some cases have already--US, Canada) agreed on automatic info exchange years, decades, and even a century ago (which in fact they also did, see some of US early agreements).  FATCA is just a very big stick that is forcing Luxembourg and Austria to so agree, thus apparently opening themselves up to similar agreements throughout the EU.  Score one for dreams of multilateralism, but only among rich countries.

But Hong Kong, poised to take over, shows why FATCA can't get us to GATCA, i.e., there will be no worldwide information exchange, and the world is still safe for tax cheats. The reason for this lies in s S. 1471(f), which reads:

Subsection (a) shall not apply to any payment to the extent that the beneficial owner of such payment is—
(1) any foreign government, any political subdivision of a foreign government, or any wholly owned agency or instrumentality of any one or more of the foregoing...
(3) any foreign central bank of issue...

Translation seems to be: no big stick on payments that go to state-owned financial institutions.  That, I take it, describes China's entire financial system, including Hong Kong and Singapore.  Tell me if I am wrong about this, because I truly want to know.  If I am right, then FATCA moves tax havens around on the board but doesn't actually end the gravy train for tax cheats.

If that in turn is true, then the application of onerous compliance and filing issues on americans living in high tax countries to try to hunt down tax cheats who will not even be there seems particularly troublesome.

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