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STEP Still Critical Of OECD Information Exchange Process

by Amanda Banks,, London

21 November 2005

Following the OECD Global Forum in Melbourne last week, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) has welcomed OECD's support for mutual benefits in information exchange but warns that the process is still flawed.

Over 130 representatives of 55 governments, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the European Commission attended a "Global Forum" on 15-16 November 2005 in Melbourne to review progress towards a level playing field based on high standards of transparency and effective exchange of information for tax purposes. But STEP warns that the entire information exchange process is still flawed because jurisdictions with major finance centres are still refusing to commit to the OECD principles of exchange of information and transparency.

Commenting on the outcomes of the Melbourne Global Forum, Keith Johnston, Head of Policy and Communications at STEP Worldwide, said:

"STEP welcomes the ground-breaking decision of China and Hong Kong to endorse the OECD principles and their agreement to work towards a level playing field in standards.

"However, it is worrying that a large number of the other jurisdictions that attended the Forum for the first time, such as Austria, which is a member of both the OECD and the European Union, continue to refuse to offer this endorsement.

"Other major finance centres, including Luxembourg and Belgium, also both OECD and EU members, refused even to attend the Forum, let alone commit to the principles of exchange and information and transparency.

"There has also been no attempt to bring US states, such as Delaware and Wyoming, into the process, despite these being in competition with major finance centres across the world."

"STEP believes the OECD and European Union must now concentrate on bringing their own members, as well as US states, up to the standards expected of smaller jurisdictions. It is only through a genuinely inclusive process that the OECD will achieve its goal of a level playing field in standards.

"Another practical step forward should be an end to arbitrary blacklisting based on the OECD's outdated 'technical' list of so-called tax havens issued in 2000.

"We are pleased that Forum participants took account of STEP's research into the errors made by many current blacklists. The Forum was right to recognise that the OECD's list has been misused and to call on countries to review any lists based on it. STEP now calls on the OECD to be more proactive in pressing all countries to review their blacklists to ensure these are not unfair and discriminatory."

"STEP also welcomes the Global Forum's acknowledgement that bilateral tax information exchange agreements should be based on bringing benefits to both parties. It is only sensible to recognise that all territories enter
negotiations expect to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

"It is unfortunate it has taken so long for the OECD to acknowledge this fact, but at least now it is possible to have a sensible dialogue on this issue."

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) is a professional body providing education, training, representation and networking for over 11,000 members working in financial services in some 60 large and small jurisdictions across the world, including many OECD "participating partners". Members specialise in trusts and estates, executorship, will writing, administration and related taxes.

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