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Nick Bridge

Special Representative for Climate Change

Part of UK in France

18th February 2013

A taxing issue…

George Osborne and Angel Gurria
George Osborne and Angel Gurria

The Prime Minister’s speech at Davos, and the Chancellor’s article in yesterday’s Observer, describe how the UK is working with OECD experts to push reform of the international tax system – to reduce tax base erosion and the shifting of profits by global corporations.

I remember being struck by this issue at an Economic Club lunch in Washington D.C. back in March 2011. The guest speaker was GE CEO Jeff Immelt, and there was a real sense of anticipation in the audience because a story had just broken that GE had made $5.1 billion in US profits in 2010 but not paid any federal corporate taxes, partly through the legal movement of profits to different tax jurisdictions.

At the lunch, Immelt explained how the “old, complex and uncompetitive tax system” had allowed such a situation to arise and called for reform (something that looks like its on President Obama’s agenda in his second term).

Other countries have also become more aware of this phenomenon in recent months. At Davos, the Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We want to use the G8 to drive a more serious debate on tax evasion and tax avoidance”. And this weekend, the British Chancellor put it on the G20 agenda in Moscow.

As he said in an article in The Observer, “The principles governing tax for multinational companies have barely changed since they were developed by the League of Nations almost a century ago. As a result, some large multinationals are able to restructure their business to avoid paying their fair share in tax.”

The OECD are the experts in international tax rules, and presented their interim report to the G20 meeting after receiving financial support for the work from the UK, Germany and France. G20 Finance Ministers have invited them to work up their proposals into an action plan for G20 leaders to consider in July.

The OECD study shows how the current international tax rules allow tax base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) to take place, including through the shifting of taxable profits within a company to a location away from where the actual business took place.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor have also highlighted the important development aspect of this issue. As multinational activity in emerging and developing countries grows rapidly it will be important to ensure that the international tax rules enable companies to support development in those countries through their tax contributions.

2 comments on “A taxing issue…

  1. Oliver

    I think we can take encouragement from the strong G20 statement in Moscow (“we are determined to develop measures to address base erosion and profit shifting, take necessary collective actions, and looks forward to the comprehensive action plan the OECD will present to us in July”). There is a clear political commitment from the US and other G20 countries to pursue this work.

    But you’re absolutely right that the proof will be in the pudding. I can say from my vantage point is that the OECD team is clearly working hard to come up with the best possible recipe.

  2. Mr Bridge,

    Your application of international tax rules beyond the scope of the first world countries currently being targeted is admirable and forward-thinking. That being said, many of the multinationals currently being targeted are US companies. Have we had any reaction from US representatives on the G20 reform proposal? I understand this is a sensitive matter, but no matter how appealing Obama’s words of transparency and reform may be, the actions that follow will say the most.

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About Nick Bridge

The Foreign Secretary appointed Nick Bridge as Special Representative for Climate Change in May 2017. He was previously Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the OECD from 2011 to…

The Foreign Secretary appointed Nick Bridge as Special Representative for Climate Change in May 2017.

He was previously Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the OECD from 2011 to 2016.

Mr Bridge was previously Chief Economist at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and head of Global Economy Department. He has served for over a decade in diplomatic postings to the China, Japan and the United States.

Mr Bridge previously worked in the Treasury, where he co-led a $4 billion facility to immunise half a billion people in the developing world, and was an economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Born in 1972 in Yorkshire, Mr Bridge graduated in economics from the University of Nottingham.

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