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Edwards Report Author Predicts Future For OIFCs

Tax-news.com

22 November 1999


At a London conference last week the author of the UK Government's 'Edwards Report' on the Dependent Territories of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, Mr Andrew Edwards, gave his opinions about the likely outcome of the current manoeuverings going on between international bodies such as the OECD and the EU and the offshore centres.

Mr Edwards foresees that the offshore centres will fall into two groups: 'good' ones, which will reach an accommodation with the 'powers that be', and will consequently be an accepted and useful part of the global financial tapestry; and 'bad' ones, that don't co-operate, and will attract only not-good business. He thinks that 'good' centres will eventually have to accept a fair degree of transparency through exchange of information and mutual assistance treaties with the high-tax countries, but that the quid pro quo will be that they are allowed to continue to offer low-tax regimes to those companies and individuals that are able to take advantage of them. The 'secret' business (ie tax evaders, money-launderers etc) will migrate to the 'bad' centres which will be the subject of sanctions by the high-tax countries.

Although Andrew Edwards is retired, the general opinion among speakers and delegates afterwards was that his opinions are very likely to be close to the mainstream of Governmental thinking.

Among the other highlights of the conference were presentations by Peter Cussons of PwC, Klaus Eicher from Deloittes in Munich, Kolm Kelly and Una Tighe's Irish double act, and Professor Gunther Strunk from Hamburg University.

Peter Cussons' talk on Global Taxation Trends included details of the closed meeting of the EU's 'Code of Conduct' Committee chaired by UK Treasury Minister Dawn Primarolo on 12th November at which the final list of 'unfair tax practices' was agreed for presentation to the Ecofin Council meeting on November 29th. The original 200 + measures have been whittled down to 61. The UK has emerged scot-free (20 UK measures were on the original list), although the dependent territories are still targeted on a number of measures. Surprisingly, the Luxembourg 'SOPARFI' holding company is not on the list, although Peter Cussons added the word 'yet', since only the Council of Ministers can make the final decision.

Both Andrew Edwards and Peter Cussons emphasized that the whole 'Code of Conduct' directive, which includes desirable relaxations of the cross-border rules on royalties and licensing payments along with the withholding tax and the unfair practices list, probably stands or falls as a unit, as there is no EU-wide agreement to pass anything but a full version of the proposals.

Klaus Eicher explored the characteristics of a 'net-centric' corporation, which may not have a fixed structure over time, and which will certainly be flat, with many more expatriate executives who can take advantage (like their companies) of offshore opportunities. He summarised a prevailing theme of the conference when he said that the current legislative situation was frustrating for clients and advisers alike: 'Yes, this structure might not trigger a tax in the target country provided that the following 26 conditions are fulfilled; but there is a risk that the tax authorities will take a different approach.'

Kolm Kelly and Una Tighe made out a convincing case for Ireland's quasi-offshore e-future. As an onshore EU jurisdiction with an agreed low-tax regime, and e-commerce-friendly legislation that is ahead of anything else in the EU, Ireland is experiencing a boom in e-commerce development. Speakers from Jersey and the Isle of Man were equally enthusiastic about their e-commerce regimes - we are probably going to witness a lively competition between a number of the leading offshore jurisdictions to corner the various different types of e-commerce and e-business that can migrate offshore.

Professor Strunk, one of the top names in e-academia, reviewed the confusing patchwork of p.e. (permanent establishment) and cfc regimes in the main OECD countries, and how (for instance) a German company could e-nable itself tax effectively in this jungle. He recalled Jean-Baptiste Colbert's bon mot about the art of taxation (plucking geese to get the most feathers with the least hissing), but observed that (as the Economist pointed out) there has been one big change: unlike geese, in the 17th century people didn't know how to fly; now they can!

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