Monday, 4 February 2013

Obama admin taking the high road on FATCA reciprocity?

I have predicted that real FATCA reciprocity would not fly in the US once people began to understand what the details entailed, but I would like to be wrong about that, and I have argued that the best course forward for FATCA is real reciprocity coupled with adherence to residence-based taxation. Here's a sign from the Chicago Tribune that I could get at least one of my wishes:
Foreigners' accounts in U.S. banks eyed in tax crackdown
The Obama administration may soon ask Congress for the power to require more disclosure by U.S. banks of information about foreign clients' accounts to those clients' home governments, as part of a crackdown on tax evasion, sources said on Monday. 
In a move facing resistance from some in the U.S. banking industry, two tax industry sources said the administration was considering asking Congress in an upcoming White House budget proposal for the authority to require more disclosure from U.S. banks. 
...At the heart of FATCA is a law requiring more disclosure by non-U.S. banks of information about Americans' accounts to the Internal Revenue Service, with the goal of exposing Americans' efforts to dodge U.S. taxes through secret offshore accounts. 
As Treasury has implemented FATCA, some countries - possibly including France, Germany and China - were said to be driving a hard bargain. They have been saying that if their banks have to tell the IRS about Americans' secret accounts, then U.S. banks should have to reciprocate by disclosing more information about the U.S. accounts of French, German and Chinese nationals. 
...China has been publicly dismissive of FATCA, but it is talking with U.S. officials behind the scenes, sources said.
...France and Germany "have been asking for something more like full reciprocity," said Jonathan Jackel, a lawyer with the law firm of Burt Staples & Maner LLP in Washington, D.C. 
The story says that "The IRS this year started disclosing to some foreign governments information about bank interest payments earned by their citizens with U.S. bank accounts."--but I am not sure that that is true, given that the only country currently on the list for automatic info sharing on portfolio interest is Canada-and Canada was already on that list anyway.

The story quotes Itai Grinberg, who has to be the foremost expert on the legislation and really ought to be listened to on the underlying principles:
"The United States should be moving toward full reciprocity," said Georgetown Law School Professor Itai Grinberg, a former Treasury official, adding it would be "deeply hypocritical" of the United States to ask for U.S. taxpayer information "without offering some kind of reciprocity."

Progress, perhaps. But this is America, so here comes a lawsuit:

The Texas Bankers Association is considering a lawsuit against the government to stop accountholder information sharing with Mexico, said Eric Sandberg, the group's president.
Why, what s the problem?  Well, you see, it's financial privacy.
"We are concerned with Latin American countries like Mexico," said Fran Mordi, senior tax counsel at the American Bankers Association. "In the past, U.S. banks didn't report interest payments to non-resident aliens ... IRS is now saying you have to report that."
Translate how you will. I think it's a clear illustration of the state at war with itself over how to gain the maximum advantage from a combination of cooperation and competition with other states on taxation. Information sharing is going to benefit the US more in terms of dollars in the economy if it is one-way street that catches US shirkers but doesn't prevent taking advantage of other countries' ignorance about the location of their own taxpayers' resources. I think the mercenary state will prevail in the end--cooperate in principle, defect in practice--but I am very much hoping to be wrong.

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