Update on December UN Tax Meetings

by Pooja Rangaprasad

An important priority for the CSO FfD group has been the establishment of a universal, intergovernmental tax body under the auspices of the UN so all countries have a seat at the table and a vote in designing international tax standards. Unfortunately this proposal of G77 and China has been repeatedly blocked by developed countries who argue that global tax standards should continue to be decided by the OECD. Though developing countries lost this battle for an intergovernmental tax body in Addis Ababa, one of the decisions of the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development was to strengthen the work of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (UNTC) through enhanced resources, increasing the frequency of its meetings to two sessions per year, and through increasing its legitimacy by selecting its members by equitable geographical distribution and different tax systems. While the first part has been achieved with a second meeting of the UNTC in early December of 2016, the re-composition of the committee is expected to be implemented in June 2017, when the mandates of current members end. The latest meeting of the committee was complemented by a Special Event of ECOSOC on international cooperation in tax matters. During this event, members of the UNTC reported on the committee’s latest achievements and answered questions from member states.

Meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (UNTC) 5-8 December 2016, New York

The agenda, background documents and presentations for the UN tax committee meetings can be accessed here: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/events/event/thirteenth-session-tax.html.

Technical issues discussed during the week included the type of LoB clause members want to introduce in the UN model tax treaty to address treaty abuse and updates by the Extractives subcommittee on their papers which will be published as a handbook in June 2017. There was some procedural discussion when one member raised whether it was appropriate to be registering ‘minority’ views in the commentary since they are participating in their individual capacity and not representing their governments. With the meeting being held in New York, there were members from the UN Missions of member states who were in the room and one of them intervened to remind the tax committee during this discussion of the push for the need for the work of this tax committee to be intergovernmental in Addis Ababa during FfD. A business representative also intervened to suggest that from a business point of view, recording views in personal capacity as opposed to government reservations like in OECD commentary is unhelpful for them. A member from civil society intervened to reiterate their support for an intergovernmental tax body at the UN to ensure inclusive discussions at an intergovernmental level on tax.

During the UNTC meeting, several civil society initiatives and organizations (Global Alliance for Tax Justice, ICRICT,  Financial Transparency Coalition, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Society for International Development, MISEREOR, Global Policy Forum, and Eurodad) together with South Centre organized a side-event on discussing “Strengthening domestic resource mobilization through international cooperation in tax matters.” In the event, Wolfgang Obenland (GPF) presented the results of the recently published International Policy Analysis “Options for Global Tax Governance”. This was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Erika Siu (coordinator of ICRICT). Liselott Kana (Head of the Department of International Taxation, Internal Revenue Service, Chile, and vice-chair of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters introduced her views on better cooperation between the various existing governance institutions on tax at OECD, UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions. Alexander Trepelkov (Head of the Financing for Development Office in UN-DESA) explained the intergovernmental consultations on strengthening the UN in tax matters in the Financing for Development process as well as the newly established Platform on Collaboration in Tax. Stephan Ohme (Head of Division on Financing for Development/(New) Donor-relations, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation & Development, Germany) contextualized the strengthening of the UN on tax within the broader Financing for Development agenda. Pooja Rangaprasad (Policy Coordinator at Financial Transparency Coalition) on the other hand, raised arguments for establishing a universal and political institution on international cooperation in tax matters at the UN.

The subsequent discussion with the audience showed differing opinions on where tax as an issue could sensibly be institutionalized, with views ranging from the UN being a space dominated by petty interests to the UN being the only suitable place for creating a “level playing field” for all governments.

Meetings in 2017: The first meeting of the UN Tax Committee will take place from 3-6 April in New York followed by the ECOSOC special meeting on international cooperation on tax matters on 7th April. The second meeting of the UN Tax Committee will be on 17-20 October in Geneva.

ECOSOC special meeting on international cooperation in tax matters 9 December 2016

Agenda, presentations and background materials can be accessed here: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/events/event/ie-2016-ictm.html

This is the annual meeting where the UN Tax Committee members present their work to ECOSOC and there is an opportunity for member states to make interventions and provide inputs to the work of the Committee. As evident from the agenda, capacity building and presentations by the members of the Platform for the Collaboration on Tax (IMF, WB, OECD and UN) featured heavily through the meeting. Statements were made by Angola, Gabon, India and Bangladesh. G77 and China usually put out a statement at this meeting every year reiterating their call for the need for an intergovernmental tax body at the UN but did not submit one this year. India’s statement reiterated their support for establishing a UN intergovernmental tax body. Civil society representative also made an intervention on their continued support for the G77 and China proposal for an intergovernmental tax body at the UN.

Official summary of the meeting can be accessed here: https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/ecosoc6802.doc.htm

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