Transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes is about putting an end to bank secrecy and tax evasion through global tax co-operation. The Global Forum is a key international body working on the implementation of international standards. It ensures that these high standards are in place around the world through its monitoring and peer review activities.
As the world has become increasingly globalised, it has also become increasingly straightforward for taxpayers to move their financial activities across the world. While this has brought great benefits, it has also provided the opportunity for taxpayers to look to hide their financial affairs from tax authorities in order to evade tax. While estimates vary, not least due to the inherent difficulties in calculating it, the amount of hidden wealth across the world is thought to be highly significant. This not only reduces the revenues available to provide necessary public services, but also risks undermining the public’s confidence in the tax system and globalisation itself, and damages the reputation of international financial centres. A multilateral response that ensures much closer linkages and working practices between tax authorities across the world provides for an effective response to address these risks, ensuring that tax authorities can, in effect, see across borders to ensure that all taxpayers pay the tax that is due.
The Global Forum provides a multilateral response to tackle offshore tax evasion. It brings together over 160 jurisdictions dedicated to improving transparency and the exchange of information for tax purposes. It does this through promoting and ensuring the effective implementation of two complementary international standards, both of which provide for closer co-operation between tax authorities worldwide so that they can obtain information necessary to ensure tax compliance, such as on cross-border investments.
The first standard agreed and implemented provides for the international exchange of information on request (EOIR), where a tax authority can request a particular piece of information to progress a tax investigation.
The second provides for the international automatic exchange of information (AEOI), where a pre-defined set of information on financial accounts held by non-residents is automatically exchanged each year. This exchange is underpinned by ensuring that the information is kept confidential and properly safeguarded and particular requirements are placed on jurisdictions to ensure this.
The Global Forum monitors the worldwide implementation of these standards and conducts peer reviews to ensure the standards are implemented effectively. It also provides for a forum for its members to discuss these issues and delivers technical assistance to its members to support them in implementing the standards.
Member jurisdictions of the Global Forum all operate on an equal footing in setting the Global Forum’s priorities and devising and implementing its work plan. It is supported by a self-standing Secretariat hosted at the OECD. At its core the Global Forum is a peer review body whereby members review the effectiveness of each other’s implementation of the international standards on transparency and the exchange of information for tax purposes. Where issues are identified, recommendations are made to address them. Member jurisdictions also make additional financial and other contributions to support the Global Forum’s capacity building and technical assistance programme to train members in the application of the standards and to provide intensive and bespoke assistance to ensure developing countries can fully benefit from the standards. The Global Forum also counts several international organisations as observers to ensure international coherence in the international community’s approach to tackling offshore tax evasion and works very closely with many of them on a day-to-day basis to coordinate the provision of support to developing countries.
The Standard for Exchange of Information on Request (EOIR) has been in operation for many years and all Global Forum members are committed to its implementation. The Global Forum completed a first round of peer reviews in this regard between 2010 and 2016. This involved a detailed examination of the legal frameworks in place in each jurisdiction as well as the implementation of the standard in practice. Overall ratings were subsequently assigned to 116 jurisdictions. The Global Forum then strengthened its approach to reviewing the implementation of the EOIR standard, including by requiring the availability of information on who the beneficial owners of assets are. It commenced a second round of peer reviews in July 2016. More than 90 peer review reports have so far been published during the second round of peer reviews. The results show that a huge amount of progress has been achieved to ensure the effective implementation of the EOIR Standard worldwide, although there is still more to do.
The Standard for Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) was developed in 2014. All Global Forum members were asked to commit to exchange information under the AEOI Standard by 2017 or 2018, aside from developing countries that do not host a financial centre, given their capacity constraints and lower risk to the level playing field. Over 100 jurisdictions have now committed its implementation and the vast majority have commenced exchanges. The Global Forum has reviewed each jurisdiction’s domestic and international legal frameworks to ensure their completeness and issued determinations. The initial reviews of the effectiveness of each jurisdiction’s implementation of the AEOI Standard have been published at the end of 2022.
The Global Forum also conducts dedicated reviews in relation to the confidentiality and data safeguard put in place by jurisdictions conducting AEOI, with a particular focus on the associated policies and systems. All those carrying out AEOI have already been reviewed pre-exchanges and a programme of post-exchange reviews is also being carried out.
Meanwhile, extensive technical assistance has been provided on all aspects of the Global Forum’s work. This includes induction programmes and other training to educate Global Forum members on the Global Forum’s standards and a targeted assistance to ensure developing countries, which now make up a majority of the Global Forum’s membership, can fully benefit from them.
The Global Forum will continue its programme of peer reviews to ensure the international standards on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes are implemented effectively worldwide. This includes the continuation of its second round of reviews in relation to EOIR, which places a particular focus on ensuring the availability of information on the beneficial ownership of assets, and the analysis of the annual follow-up self-assessment reports to track progress. All jurisdictions implementing AEOI will also be reviewed on the effectiveness of their implementation of the standard in practice. This includes a focus on whether jurisdictions are ensuring that financial institutions are reporting complete and accurate information to exchange. The Global Forum will also continue its focus on confidentiality and data safeguards by reviewing all jurisdictions conducting AEOI, including a particular focus on the policies and systems being used for exchange.
Supporting jurisdictions and providing assistance will continue to be a key priority for the Global Forum, not least because the majority of its members are now developing countries. We will encourage members to form close partnerships and share best practices and will provide them with training and materials on how to implement the standards. Through intensive assistance, we will make sure developing countries fully benefit.