The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on Friday forecast competition heating up among countries wanting to attract revenue from big digital companies like Apple and Google, even as a row rages over Luxembourg's arrangements with multinationals.
Closing corporate tax loopholes and endorsing a common reporting standard to increase transparency are set to be a primary focus of the G20 summit in Brisbane this weekend.
Leaders of the world's most powerful economies want to ensure companies pay taxes where they make their profits, instead of using complex financial structures that allow them to slash their liabilities, depriving governments of billions in revenue.
Many of these strategies are legal, but are sometimes at the limit of the law. The opacity of Luxembourg's beneficial tax deals with a slew of companies, when its government was led by the new head of the EU's executive Jean-Claude Juncker, has erupted as a major dispute heading into the G20.OECD tax chief Pascal Saint-Amans said the organisation's plan against base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) would end tax havens, but would not eliminate tax competition, which he expects to intensify as nations compete for business investment on a more even playing field.
"If there's no zero-tax havens left, then countries will be keen on competing with more attractive rates," he told Fairfax Media.
"BEPS puts an end to harmful tax competition, but not (all) tax competition. Some countries might move to be more attractive by reducing their (tax) rates. We think that's fine."
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development provides economic analysis and advice to its industrialised country members, many of which figure in the G20.
- Juncker in crosshairs -
G20 host Australia has made tax avoidance a key plank of its G20 presidency with Treasurer Joe Hockey on Thursday saying the practice of corporations shifting profits amounted to "theft".The issue has taken on added significance with Juncker heading to Brisbane for the G20 forum.
Juncker, who took over the European Commission on November 1, is under pressure over generous tax concessions offered to top global companies when he was prime minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013.
The allegations are politically explosive at a time when many EU countries are still struggling with the impact of austerity, particularly since Juncker is spearheading a call for tax reform in his new role.
The European Commission is investigating several member states over allegations they offered corporate giants such as Apple, Starbucks and Amazon state aid in the form of sweetheart tax deals.
At a meeting of G20 finance ministers in September, OECD chief Angel Gurria said the plan to close loopholes amounted to the biggest change to international tax rules in more than a century.
He revealed that global efforts to crack down on tax avoidance had already identified 37 billion euros (US$53 billion) from voluntary disclosure programmes involving 24 countries over five years, adding that "more will come".
The first BEPS recommendations list seven goals that would help to ensure companies pay tax in the countries where they generate income.
They include proposals on closing loopholes that allow for the abuse of tax treaties and to go after the accounts of multinational businesses kept offshore in low-tax jurisdictions, which Gurria estimated to total about US$2.0 trillion.