According to its many proponents, the new international tax reform agreement, finalized Friday at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a “historic” achievement deserving of celebration.
OECD Secretary-General, Mathias Cormann called the new pact between world leaders “a major victory for effective and balanced multilateralism.” French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, echoed Cormann’s praise, saying that the agreement “opens the path to a true fiscal revolution”, ensuring “digital giants pay their fair share of taxes…”
Not to be outdone, Canada’s own Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, gushed that the new deal “is a win for the Canadian middle class and Canadian businesses. It will end the race to the bottom in taxation and put Canadian businesses on a level playing field with our global competitors.”
It makes sense for these political leaders to sing the praises of the deal they themselves helped negotiate and ultimately agreed to. Almost all politicians want to crow about their successes. Its part of the job.
But is theirs a fair and accurate assessment? Or is it a thinly veiled attempt to deceive citizens into believing that their elected representatives are taking meaningful action to address corporate tax avoidance?
When taken at face value, the deal that 136 countries agreed to, what with its proposed new taxation rights on corporate profits and a new minimum global corporate tax rate, are indeed positive developments.
However, after closer inspection of its details, it becomes quite clear that the deal could not be further from the egalitarian and progressive feat its supporters would have you believe it is.
For starters, consider the minimum rate decided upon in the agreement.
At 15 percent, the minimum tax rate is simply far too low to do any substantive good. There are less than a handful of countries in the G7 and member state countries in the European Union that have corporate tax rates lower than 15 percent, leaving far too many jurisdictions minimally affected by this portion of the deal. Proposals for a 21 percent minimum tax, or, as the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation advocates for, a 25 percent minimum rate, would have to be agreed upon for the deal to have any real global benefit in curbing corporate greed.
Unfortunately, these bare minimum tax rates are the least of the deal’s problems.
Far worse is the fact that the agreement compels all signatory countries to eliminate the existing taxes they currently have on big tech. This will include Canada’s Digital Services Tax, which is due to come into effect this coming January. As a result of these changes, Toby Sanger, an economist from Canadians for Tax Fairness, predicts that in Canada, “big tech companies will get a massive tax break, and the federal government much lower tax revenues.”
Nor will Canadians be the only ones exploited. Citizens in the Global South will be even worse off than those of us in the Global North.
Under the current agreement, “countries in which the corporations are headquartered, rather than where they do their business, receive the lion’s share of the recouped revenue.” As Global South countries don’t tend to host major company headquarters, and as their government’s are even more reliant on corporate revenue than those in the Global North are, the agreement will be crippling to the developing world.
Add on the fact that the deal is extremely limited in scope, not to mention, rife with loopholes and exemptions, just waiting to be exploited, and you have what Oxfam’s Tax Policy Lead, Susana Ruiz, calls “an unacceptable injustice”; one that desperately “needs a complete overhaul.”
Sadly, that overhaul appears unlikely to occur anytime soon.
After four decades of short-sighted tax cuts, enabling outrageous of levels of wealth inequality together with diminished government revenue, political leaders still have not mustered the courage, let alone the intelligence, to band together to correct the wrongs of the neoliberal past and finally usher in a new era of cooperation on corporate taxation.
Instead, they brokered an agreement that will only increase corporate greed and exploitation, leaving ordinary citizens increasingly vulnerable to the financial encroachment of big tech.
For these injustices, our political leaders deserve no more praise than that they themselves have heaped upon one another.