#G8, transparency, tax and “the soft bigotry of low expectations…”

On tax, and transparency, here’s the final communique from Lough Erne. Ten “shoulds”, all of them ‘good things’, based on self reporting. Ah, “the soft bigotry of low expectations” says Joseph Cotteril. No imminent world government then?

As The Economist noted last week:

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…offshore centres such as the Cayman Islands and Jersey, corporate service providers have had to collect ownership information since they first came under international pressure a decade ago, though they are sometimes slow or unwilling to turn it over to investigators. In America, by contrast, the information generally is not even collected. Indeed, states like Delaware and Nevada are among the easiest jurisdictions in the world in which to form a company without revealing who ultimately owns it.

This frustrates and embarrasses America’s crime-fighters, but the states’ lawmakers have blocked reform. Britain, with its bearer shares and easily abused limited-liability partnerships, is little better. Complaints from police about anonymous shells helped persuade Mr Cameron to make transparency a G8 theme.

So before they come for Ireland, it seems that the UK and the US have some homework of their own to catch up on:

Chancellor George Osborne unveiled plans for a UK register of companies and their owners. The White House also announced a similar plan for the US.

Last week the UK also unveiled a deal with its crown dependencies and overseas territories – including the Channel Islands, Gibraltar and Anguilla – to start sharing more information on which foreign companies bank their profits there.

About a fifth of offshore tax havens, which are used by multinationals to shelter cash from the tax authorities, are British dependencies.

“Of course Britain’s got to put its own house in order,” said Mr Osborne, adding that the government would launch a consultation on whether the register should be published or just be available to the HMRC.

Speaking during the summit, Mr Osborne said more progress had been made on reforming the global tax system in the past 24 hours than the “past 24 years”

As noted at the outset, the G8 is about trying to set agendas, not sealing deals. This may be a statement of collective intent to begin rolling up the carpet on tax loop holes rather than avoidance per se.

But don’t hold your breath

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