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Caribbean Bankers Upset by OECD 'Blacklist'

19 December 1999

Caribbean bankers at a recent business conference in the United States expressed their anger at the OECD's agenda to blacklist Caribbean banking centres as tax havens.

"The OECD is trying to act as global tax police," said Penny Ettinger of Bayshore Bank in Barbados. "This approach focuses on punishing the regions that make their rates more attractive. There appears to be confusion between the concept of tax evasion and tax avoidance ... Tax avoidance can be very legitimate".

Many bankers said the OECD had overstepped its bounds by pursuing "punitive and compulsory" policies when its main role is to study and analyse opportunities for financial growth. They also said the OECD was being hypocritical because it allows Luxembourg and Switzerland, both OECD members, to operate as tax havens while at the same time trying to blacklist struggling Caribbean countries.

Caribbean bankers say they are unfairly portrayed as money laundering havens, despite recent new legislation and treaties aimed at keeping Caribbean banking clean.

According to Trevor Carmichael, a principal with the Chancery Chambers law firm in Barbados, the OECD's threats are unfair. "We have to make sure we're scrupulously clean because we're smaller. And because we're smaller we can be blacklisted," he said.

The OECD is due to publish its blacklist of countries offering 'harmful' tax competition in June next year, and has been widely criticised by the banking centres of the Caribbean for its bullying tactics. The OECD has already hinted that countries on the blacklist will be subject to sanctions, but has not yet given an indication what form these might take. The majority of the OECD's 29 member nations have high income tax regimes and want to stem the flow of their capital offshore to low income tax jurisdictions.

Caribbeans say the OECD view takes no account of the fact that low tax countries such as the Caribbean islands rely more on indirect taxes, like customs duties, and have been forced to turn to offshore banking to boost their failing economies when they can no longer sell their natural resources and sunny climate to developing nations because of changes in the world economy.

In addition to the OECD's blacklist threat, Caribbean bankers have come under fire from the European Union and the United Kingdom who despite inconsistencies in their own policies, have made similar accusations.

Low tax Caribbean countries have been united in their response to the OECD, saying that the simplest solution would be for the high tax OECD countries to lower their taxes and simplify their tax structures, but so far these calls have fallen on deaf ears.


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