A senior Treasury Department official in charge of international tax policy is seeing a greater role being played by the Group of 20 finance ministers in setting the agenda for tax laws around the world.
“One theme I want to share today is the degree to which U.S. tax policy today often takes place from a myopic point of view,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of International Tax Affairs Robert Stack, during a keynote speech Tuesday at New York University and KPMG’s Annual Tax Lecture. “I spend an enormous amount of my time and energy in the international space, and I don’t think the United States tax community or the United States business community is sufficiently engaged in the global agenda setting in tax. I don’t think it’s enough anymore to simply look at the U.S. Congress, or even the U.S. Treasury, as the font of all international tax that affects your lives and your practices.”
Stack admitted that before he entered government service, he was only vaguely aware of the G-20 as the top 20 economies by size in the world and that they meet from time to time. “I certainly was not aware that the finance ministries get together three or four times a year and put out a communique, and I was less aware that the leaders meet annually and put out another communique,” he said. “But the G-20 is a critical driving force of global international tax policy. It is something that I pay extraordinary attention to in great detail because it will trickle down into U.S. tax policy one way or another at one time or another.”
He urged the tax professionals in attendance to pay closer attention to the periodic communiques issued by the G-20. The G-20, he noted, authorized the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to draw up its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting action plan, also known as OECD BEPS, along with the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard for the automatic exchange of financial account information and the country-by-country reporting standard. Stack also pointed to the increasing influence of non-government organizations, or NGOs, in calling attention to tax havens and the declining tax base in many countries, particularly in the developing world.
“The NGO community is latching onto the idea of a minimum tax,” he warned.
After his speech, Stack discussed the international tax arena with a panel of tax experts from NYU, KPMG and the law firm Skadden Arps. They also talked about the Treasury Department’s recent proposed regulations on tax inversions and earnings stripping (see Treasury Takes Further Action to Limit Tax Inversions). The panelists foresee far-reaching consequences from some of the proposals, particularly one targeting transactions that generate large interest deductions by increasing related-party debt without financing new investment in the U.S. The new rules would allow the IRS during an audit to divide debt instruments into part debt and part equity, rather than the current system that generally treats them as wholly one or the other.
“Inversion was really just a springboard for doing something that applied more broadly,” predicted one panelist.