A Critical Examination of the International Regulation of Offshore Financial Centres
Olivier De Wulf
University of Aberdeen
March, 13 2009
Globalisation has leaded to increasing movements across national frontiers of goods and services, financial capital, production factors and technology. Globalisation has mixed effects on the development of tax systems and national economies. However, it has also contributed to a tax competition taking potentially the form of harmful tax practices. Further, the opportunities for money laundering, terrorism financing and evasion of taxes on capital income have increased, fuelling an explosive growth of "offshore" finance, which takes advantage from the weaknesses of the international tax coordination's system and of the financial markets. Thus, the economic and tax competition has created a growing number of "tax havens" and "Offshore Financial Centers" (OFCs).
Feeling an erosion of their economies and national tax bases, the G7/8 nations began a vigorous campaign, driven by international bodies and international associations of regulators. According to these international regulators, the IMF, the OECD, the FATF and the European Union (EU), the OFCs adopt harmful regimes to attract mobile activities or hide financial crimes, to encourage tax avoidance and flight of capital, to make possible money laundering, and other illegal activities, and to weaken the power of both national and international supervisory bodies to regulate the financial system.
These international bodies has used the threat of sanctions to oblige OFCs to cooperate in the areas such as anti money-laundering, counter financing terrorism, and tax competition. This campaign is, until now, moderately successful. The limited success is mainly grounded on the fact that there has been very limited coordination between the international bodies in order to improve cooperation in tax enforcement and the supervision of financial markets and institutions. Further, these initiatives have been largely criticized by the OFCs as they consider them as rich countries' initiatives. The campaigns have had the opposite effect of what they had originally intended. Through complying with the OECD, the EU, and the IMF requirements, offshore sovereignty has been enhanced, sustaining its continued appeal for international finance.
In fact, without strong enforcement capacities from the very beginning, the multilateral approach was vulnerable to bilateralism from the commencement. Several solutions are proposed like the creation of a unique international body dealing with all issues raised by OFCs, or the adoption of a "unitary taxation" system or a "Financial Transparency Index". The solution could also be the base on a multilateral agreement for the exchange of tax-relevant information. The information shared would help to target tax evasion, illegal trafficking and money-laundering. Finally, the international community needs to adopt a more global approach to the issue of OFCs including all countries and not only developed countries, and transversal, including taxation, corruption and instability.
Keywords: OFC,Havens,tax, OECD,working papers series
Date posted: March 14, 2009
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