Owen, Christopher: Offshore Survey – January 2008

  • Barbados aims to double treaty network
    • 30 October 2007, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs and Development Mia Mottley said that within five years Barbados should be capable of doubling the number of tax treaties and investment treaties with other territories. She reported that Barbados recently signed a double taxation agreement and a bilateral investment treaty with the Seychelles. She also revealed that negotiations are ongoing with Ghana and there was a model treaty for negotiation with India. She pointed to the initialling of an agreement with Mexico which she said would open the doors to other Latin American countries since Barbados was blacklisted by that country and had subsequently been ostracised by its neighbours.

  • Bermuda signs Tax Information Exchange Agreement with UK
    • 4 December 2007, the UK and Bermuda signed a tax information exchange agreement in London. It is the first comprehensive TIEA to be signed by the UK and covers both direct and indirect tax matters. If ratified, the treaty will enter into force in 12 months time. Previously, the UK has concluded limited agreements providing for the exchange of information in relation to the taxation of savings income with Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, the Turks & Caicos Islands, Montserrat, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. Jane Kennedy, UK Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “I commend the government of Bermuda for its willingness to implement the high standards of transparency and exchange of information to which it is committed and for its continuing leadership in this important global tax policy area.” Bermuda already has TIEAs in force with the US and Australia.

  • Buffett tells US Senate to retain death tax
    • 14 November 2007, US investment billionaire Warren Buffett told a panel of US Senators that retaining the estate tax was essential to stop the wealth gap between the middle class and an elite of super-rich Americans growing further. Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Buffett argued that far from encouraging wealth creation and investment, tax policies which allowed the wealthy to keep more of their money were actually eroding the tenets of economic opportunity and social mobility. “Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise. Equality of opportunity has been on the decline,” he told the Committee. “A meaningful estate tax is needed to prevent our democracy from becoming a dynastic plutocracy.” He suggested that, rather than repealing the estate tax, it should be reformed to have less impact on smaller estates, but tax larger estates more. US lawmakers are under pressure to reach some agreement on the future of the tax because a law enacted by Congress in 2001 gradually phases it out by 2010, when it will be fully repealed for one year. The tax is scheduled to return in 2011 with a top rate of 55% on estates worth more than US$1 million. At present individual estates valued at more than US$2 million are taxed at a top rate of 45%. Just 9,600 US estates will be subject to the estate tax in 2009, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. But this number will increase to an estimated 62,000 in 2011.

  • Cyprus and Malta enter Euro zone
    • 1 January 2008, Cyprus and Malta adopted the euro at the rate of 0.58 Cyprus pounds and 0.43 Maltese liras to one euro. This means that one Cyprus pound corresponds to €1.71 and one Maltese lira to €2.33. From January, the euro area will include 15 out of the 27 EU countries and a population of 320 million out of the EU’s total of 495 million. This is the second enlargement of the euro zone since 2002 – Slovenia having already adopted the single currency on 1 January 2007. The dual display of prices has been mandatory since July in Malta and since September in Cyprus.

  • EC requests Member States to review anti-tax abuse rules
    • 10 December 2007, the European Commission called on the EU’s 27 member states to review their anti-abuse rules in the direct tax area, in the light of decisions handed down by the European Court of Justice, and to explore possible coordinated solutions. “The recent rulings by the European Court of Justice in this field clearly show that member states need to urgently carry out a critical review of their existing anti-abuse rules,” said EU tax commissioner Laszlo Kovacs. “I understand that member states need to ensure that their tax bases are not unduly eroded because of abusive and overtly aggressive tax planning schemes but we cannot tolerate disproportionate obstacles to cross-border activity within the EU.” The Commission said it was willing to assist member states in bringing their anti-abuse rules in line with EC law requirements, and to explore the scope for coordinated responses to the challenges faced by EU governments. The Commission also wants better coordination of efforts to formulate anti-abuse measures in relation to “third countries”, in order to protect member states’ tax bases.

  • Hong Kong, Luxembourg sign tax treaty
    • 2 November 2007, the Hong Kong government and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg signed a double tax avoidance and prevention of fiscal evasion treaty. In the case of Hong Kong the treaty will apply to profits tax, salaries tax and property tax, whether or not charged under personal assessment. In the case of Luxembourg, the treaty will apply to the income tax on individuals (l’impôt sur le revenu des personnes physiques), the corporation tax (l’impôt sur le revenu des collectivités), the capital tax (l’impôt sur la fortune) and the communal trade tax (l’impôt commercial communal). Currently profits earned by Luxembourg residents in Hong Kong are subject to both Hong Kong and Luxembourg income tax. Profits of Luxembourg companies doing business through a branch in Hong Kong are also fully taxed in both places. Under the treaty, Luxembourg will provide full exemption to residents for such income. Hong Kong residents receiving dividends from Luxembourg not attributable to a permanent establishment there are Currently subject to a Luxembourg withholding tax at a rate of 20%. Under the treaty, the withholding tax rate will be reduced to 10% and, if the recipient is a company holding 10% or more of the share capital of the paying company (or having invested €1.2 million or more in such company), the withholding tax rate will be reduced to nil. When ratified, the treaty’s provisions will apply beginning 1 April 2008 in Hong Kong and 1 January 2008 in Luxembourg. It is the fourth tax treaty concluded by Hong Kong, which is actively seeking to establish a network of comprehensive treaties with its major trading and investment partners. Existing treaties were concluded with Belgium in 2003, Thailand in 2005 and the Mainland of China in 2006.

  • Isle of Man signs TIEAs with Nordic nations
    • 30 October 2007, the Isle of Man signed bilateral tax information exchange agreements with seven Nordic economies – Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The island has played a leading role in the OECD?s initiative to improve transparency and exchange information in tax matters and was one of 11 jurisdictions that worked with OECD countries to develop the Model Agreement on Exchange of Information in Tax Matters. Paolo Ciocca, chairman of the OECD?s Committee on Fiscal Affairs, said: “I would like to commend the Isle of Man and the Nordic economies for the innovative multilateral approach they have taken to their negotiations. This has been very effective in facilitating the conclusion of seven agreements in a relatively short period of time.” Alongside the TIEAs, the Manx government also secured shipping and aircraft taxation agreements ensuring that a relevant business based in the Isle of Man will not be taxed in the Nordic countries so long as it is conducting international trade.

  • Jamaica to develop offshore financial centre
    • Bruce Golding, Jamaica?s new prime minister, said in September that the Caribbean island would launch an offshore financial centre to emulate others in the region. “There are other islands in the Caribbean that have done very well in their offshore activities and we believe that it is an area that Jamaica can secure benefits from,” said Golding, the leader of Jamaica Labour Party. Golding said he could “not have been prepared to consider” such a plan 10 or 15 years ago. But now, he said, the “regulatory mechanisms are sufficiently well developed to give us the kind of protection that we want in order to ensure that we are not taken advantage of.” Ghana has also announced that it will introduce offshore banking.

  • Jersey introduces Companies Law amendments
    • 15 November 2007, the Minister for Economic Development approved a number of proposed changes to up-date and introduce more flexibility to the Companies Law, which have now been lodged au Greffe for the States Assembly to debate at the first sitting in 2008. The most significant proposed changes include permitting a company to purchase its own shares and hold them for a period of time, enabling a company to purchase its own shares from one investor and then transfer them to a new investor. A regulated financial services business will also be permitted to act as a corporate director of a Jersey company. This will benefit the trust industry by reducing the administration burden on companies when an employee leaves. A further change is proposed to adopt a simplified procedure requiring directors to make a statement in relation to the company’s solvency. This will boost the ability of a company to make payments to its shareholders while maintaining protection for creditors. Senator Philip Ozouf said: “The proposed amendments set out a number of substantial and important changes to the Companies Law. They are all aimed at ensuring that Jersey companies remain flexible vehicles suitable for the widest possible range of corporate activity. I am convinced that these changes will help to ensure that Jersey companies continue to be widely used, and will be beneficial to the Island.”

  • Labuan to announce rebranding exercise
    • 12 December 2007, the Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority (Lofsa) said it aims to increase the number of offshore companies operating in Labuan by 50% over the next year from about 6,000 currently. Director-general Datuk Azizan Abdul Rahman said various on-going efforts to promote Labuan International Offshore Financial Centre (IOFC) as a preferred financial hub included a rebranding exercise to be announced in 2008. According to Azizan, the rebranding exercise followed a study undertaken to re-evaluate Labuan IOFC against other financial offshore centres. “The exercise contains recommendations on areas such as a new identity for Labuan IOFC,” he said. The other aspect was to project Labuan IOFC in a way that would attract businesses to conduct their financial transactions there. “In this regard, Labuan needs to be more visible not only to international investors but also to Malaysian companies that have financial operations overseas,” Azizan said. He added that of the 6,000-plus offshore companies, which consisted of banks, insurance, leasing and trust companies from over 80 countries, 900 were Malaysian-owned. Other recommendations include improvement of the information and communications technology infrastructure and enhancement of the legislative framework with the assistance of legal consultants. ?All recommendations will be implemented in stages,? he said, adding that under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the government had allocated a ‘substantial amount’ to enhance the development of Labuan IOFC to facilitate offshore business and to meet the latest requirements of the offshore community.

  • OECD reports progress in offshore tax evasion fight
    • 12 October 2007, the OECD said that many financial centres, both onshore and offshore, still fall short of international standards for transparency and co-operation to counter offshore tax evasion, although progress has been made. Significant restrictions on access to bank information for tax purposes remain in three OECD countries – Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland – and in a number of offshore financial centres, notably Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Panama and Singapore. Moreover, a number of offshore financial centres that committed to implement standards on transparency and the effective exchange of information standards developed by the OECD’s Global Forum on Taxation have failed to do so. The OECD?s claim follows the publication of two reports that highlight what has been achieved so far and what still remains to be done. Improving Access to Bank Information for Tax Purposes – the 2007 Progress Report, describes developments in OECD countries and six others – Argentina, Chile, China, India, the Russian Federation and South Africa – with respect to access for tax authorities to bank information. While Tax Co-operation: Towards a Level Playing Field – 2007 Assessment, by the Global Forum on Taxation compares the legal frameworks for international tax co-operation of 82 OECD and non-OECD economies. It is the second in a series of factual reports by the OECD’s Global Forum on Taxation, which was formed as part of the OECD?s efforts to curb harmful tax practices. “No one country or even a small group of countries can address the issue of harmful tax practices on their own,” said Paolo Ciocca, chair of the OECD’s Committee on Fiscal Affairs and co-chair of the Global Forum. “This is a global challenge which requires a global response. In co-operation with partner financial centres, that is what OECD is seeking to achieve.” Lack of transparency and a failure to co-operate internationally create conditions that can be exploited by dishonest taxpayers to evade their tax obligations. Revenue losses due to tax evasion prevent governments from lowering tax burdens for honest taxpayers. In combating tax evasion, Ciocca said, progress has recently been made in the following areas:
      Nearly 100 more exchange of information arrangements are now in place, compared with one year ago, including tax information exchange agreements between the US and Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey which entered into force in 2006.
      The scope of some existing arrangements has been extended. For example, Switzerland has signed a number of protocols to its bilateral tax conventions to allow it to exchange information, including bank information, in cases of tax fraud and the like. Some of these protocols also allow for exchange of information in both civil and criminal tax matters in the case of holding companies.
      Access to bank information for tax purposes has been greatly improved in economies such as Belgium, which in November signed its first tax treaty providing for exchange of bank information for all tax purposes.
      Increasingly, legislation requires financial and other service providers to have available details of the beneficial, as well as the legal, owners of corporate vehicles. Macao in China now has new anti-money laundering legislation that requires financial institutions to verify the identity of customers and their beneficial owners. In San Marino, new legislation requires that from 2008 meetings of joint stock corporations must be held in the presence of a notary public who is required to identify holders of bearer shares.
      Some jurisdictions, such as Guernsey and Jersey, have brought into force legislation empowering them to fully implement the provisions of their bilateral exchange of information arrangements.
      “The vast majority of OECD countries already meet or exceed the standards set in 2000 regarding access to bank information for tax purposes, and the direction of change is clear,” said Ciocca. A recent tax treaty between Belgium and the US, for example, covers for the first time full exchange of bank information. But a number of jurisdictions still have not implemented the standards for transparency and exchange of information developed by the Global Forum. “The time has come for countries that have not yet done so to implement them,” Ciocca said. “In January 2008 the Committee on Fiscal Affairs will have a review of the future direction of this initiative. We will continue to press for further progress and explore within the Committee how such progress could be achieved.”

  • Singapore corporate tax cuts approved
    • 12 November 2007, the Singapore parliament approved the amended Income Tax Bill, giving effect to the tax reforms announced in the budget earlier this year, which included a 2% cut in corporate income tax and further improvements to the fund regime. The legislation will reduce the corporate tax rate to 18%, and bring about other tax measures to improve the competitiveness of Singapore as a business hub, including a significant increase in the partial tax exemption threshold from S$100,000 to S$300,000 from 2008, which will mean that almost 80% of small and medium-size companies will pay tax at effective rates of less than 10%. The Bill also includes the elimination of the 80:20 rule that currently requires charities to spend at least 80% of their annual receipts in Singapore within two years to qualify for income tax exemption; and improvements to the tax treatment of real estate investment trusts (REITs).

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