Antigua-Barbuda PM calls on EU Commission to apologize and withdraw tax haven list
In a strongly worded letter to Ambassador Mikael Barford, head of the Delegation of the European Union to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has documented his government’s impassioned objection to Antigua and Barbuda being named by the European Commission as a “tax haven” in a list published on June 17.
Calling the inclusion on the list unjust, Browne said that his government totally objects to the implication by Pierre Moscovici, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, that Antigua and Barbuda is a “non-cooperative” jurisdiction. The country’s leader further stated that the EU Commission and Moscovici have done considerable harm to Antigua and Barbuda and many other countries named on the list in flagrant disregard of known facts about the jurisdictions.
“In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, the jurisdiction has been found to be in compliance with the highest international standards of transparency and exchange of information as set by the Global Forum of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of which EU countries are members. Indeed, since the publication of the EU list, the OECD Global Forum has disassociated itself from the action of the EU and underscored the fact that it is their assessment which is the relevant assessment for the purposes of determining a country’s cooperation in tax matters,” Browne’s letter read.
It was also made clear that Antigua and Barbuda has been found to be fully compliant and cooperative with international standards established by the Financial Action Task Force on whose decision-making councils EU countries sit. The letter also pointed to the fact that Antigua and Barbuda has signed tax information exchange agreements with a significant number of EU members and that no request for information by an EU member state has ever been declined.
“In the circumstances, my government regards the criteria by which Antigua and Barbuda has been named on the EU list of “tax havens” as fatally flawed,” Browne outlined in his letter.
According to the EU Commission, Antigua and Barbuda was included on its arbitrary list because ten EU members named the jurisdiction as ‘non- cooperative’. The ten EU countries have been identified as: Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
“These are countries with which Antigua and Barbuda does little or no business. Antigua and Barbuda has not received any requests for information from these ten countries that it has refused. It is also significant that the EU countries, such as Britain and France, with which Antigua and Barbuda does significant transactions, did not name our jurisdiction,” Browne pointed out.
The country’s leader, while asking for his government’s objection to be made to the EU Commission by the swiftest means, said, “In damaging the reputation of Antigua and Barbuda – and many other Caribbean countries that appear on the extremely defective list – the EU Commission may well have infringed the terms of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and Caribbean countries.”
In registering his government’s strongest objection to the EU list, Browne called on the EU Commission to apologize for the damage it has done to the jurisdiction of Antigua and Barbuda and to publicly rescind the flawed and injurious list.
Bahamas demands retraction of EU tax blacklist
Minister of Financial Services Hope Strachan has confirmed that the government is moving to have The Bahamas removed from a new European Union (EU) tax blacklist.
The minister told Guardian Business on Tuuesday that The Bahamas has demonstrated its overall dedication to ending cross-border tax evasion by its implementation of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and by pledging to facilitate the automatic exchange of information (AEOI) under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Common Reporting Standard (CRS), beginning in 2018.
“We are a jurisdiction that is considered a leader when it comes to compliance, represented by a professional compliance body supported by the Bahamas government,” Strachan said.
“It is unfortunate that during a time when global taxation initiatives are progressively underway and many Caribbean nations listed have made great strides using large financial and human resources to comply, the EU published a blacklist that compromises that progress. The list published by the EU should be retracted immediately, as it is unfounded, procedurally unfair and insults the progress made by the OECD on international tax initiatives of which many of the countries listed are a part.
“The Bahamas has already begun communications with the OECD and the EU and will continue to press this issue as we join with other nations in the Caribbean to resolve this matter.”
Strachan noted that the 12 EU countries responsible for naming The Bahamas are Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
She said it was “uncanny”, given that The Bahamas does very little to no business with these countries with the exception of Italy and Spain, with whom The Bahamas signed tax information exchange agreements (TIEA) with in March of 2010.
Meanwhile, the director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration (CTPA), and the head of the Secretariat of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes – reacting to the new blacklist – have jointly asserted that “the only agreeable assessment of countries as regards their cooperation is made by the Global Forum and a number of countries identified in the EU exercise are either fully or largely compliant and have committed to AEOI, sometimes even as early adopters.”
Strachan, who spent the day behind closed doors in Cabinet meetings on Tuesday, promised a more complete response in due course, but assured Guardian Business that the government’s intention is to ensure that The Bahamas is removed from the list.
The Bahamas is among those countries that have – as the OECD notes – automatic exchange of information. The standard for automatic exchange of financial account information in tax matters was presented by the OECD to the G20 finance ministers in 2013. It provides for exchange of all financial information on an annual basis, automatically.
Fifty-one jurisdictions signed the multilateral competent authority agreement that will activate automatic exchange of information, based on the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. Others, including The Bahamas, have chosen to adopt the standard for automatic exchange of financial account information in tax matters without adopting the convention, preferring instead to implement exchange of information on a strictly bilateral basis, similar to the FATCA intergovernmental agreement.
The Bahamas has agreed to implement the standard by 2018.
The Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes has been the multilateral framework within which work in the area of transparency and exchange of information has been carried out by both OECD and non-OECD economies since 2000.
The forum lists The Bahamas as largely compliant overall, with specific ratings for availability of information, access to information and exchange of information.
In an open letter to Global Forum members, CTPA director Pascal Saint-Amans and Global Forum head Monica Bhatia assured members that they had already expressed concerns – presumably to the EU Commission, which released the list – and said they stand ready to further clarify the position of the affected jurisdictions with regard to their compliance with the Global Forum’s standards.
On June 17, the EU Commission released the comprehensive “Action Plan for Fair and Efficient Corporate Taxation in the EU”. The plan includes five key areas for action, including item four, “Further Progress on Tax Transparency”.
As an immediate first step as part of this item, Saint-Amans and Bhatia noted that the commission has released what is essentially a compilation of a pan-EU list of third country, non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, which is based on member states’ independent national lists.
“In their background document, the EU has indicated that they have not decided which countries should be listed; rather it is relaying decisions taken at a national level by their members. It is very unfortunate that this exercise has looked like the establishment of a list. Our EU colleagues have confirmed that this is not their intent,” Saint-Amans and Bhatia said.
Both the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB) and Strachan expressed disappointment that The Bahamas is on the EU list, despite a raft of tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs), the signing of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the US on implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the decision by The Bahamas to adopt the standard as outlined above.
The OECD points out that the EU list is made up of jurisdictions that appear on at least ten EU member states’ national blacklists. Some information is provided as to what factors go into making the national blacklists – they include “compliance with transparency and exchange of information standards; absence of harmful tax measures, other criterion”.
Still, Saint-Amans and Bhatia insist that the EU Commission has incorporated the Global Forum’s terms of reference into its principles of good governance in tax matters and so supports a clear link between compliance with the Global Forum standard and inclusion on a national blacklist.
“However, it is not clear how this aspect is factored into either the national blacklists or the EC’s list. In addition, the inclusion of harmful tax practices or “other criterion” in determining inclusion in a national blacklist makes it impossible to determine how this independently reflects on a jurisdiction’s compliance with the Global Forum standards.
“As the OECD and the Global Forum we would like to confirm that the only agreeable assessment of countries as regards their cooperation is made by the Global Forum and that a number of countries identified in the EU exercise are either fully or largely compliant and have committed to AEOI, sometimes even as early adopters.
“Without prejudice to countries’ sovereign positions, we are happy to confirm that these jurisdictions are cooperative and we would like to commend the tremendous progress made over the past years as well as the cooperation and integrity of the Global Forum process,” the OECD says.
Reacting to the publication of such a list – and the inclusion of The Bahamas on it – BFSB CEO Aliya Allen said, “Given the full cooperation of many countries like The Bahamas on tax transparency it is highly disappointing that these types of blacklists exist today. The Bahamas has moved, in line with the rest of the world, to adopt the OECD Standard on the Automatic Exchange of Information.
“The Bahamas is white-listed by the OECD and its 4th round mutual evaluation indicated that it was either wholly compliant or largely compliant with the criteria on tax information exchange.
“We believe this type of a consolidated list means nothing if it fails to take into account the assessments of the true standards setting bodies. A consolidation of countries’ blacklists says nothing of the reasonableness of the criteria involved in creating them.”