Both the US and Europe are planning major reforms to their tax regimes – and if it isn’t careful, Ireland risks being caught in the middle, warns Ian Guider
This article was first published in the November/December 2017 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
The winds of change in global taxation are blowing. Nothing new about that, you might say. Reform has been discussed for decades now and come to nothing. But there seems to be an inevitability about this latest drive in both Europe and America. The winds, though, are heading in opposite directions and for us here in Ireland they have the potential to blow us off course.
In a conversation some months ago with a person involved in attracting jobs to Ireland, I wanted to find out the top three things investors asked about. The response wasn’t Brexit, ability to find skilled staff or political stability. At that time the question on the top of the list was the Apple ruling and the potential fallout from it.
The answer surprised me. But then again, events since have proved that maybe it wasn’t an outlier. America and Europe are moving ahead with plans to change their tax regimes. However, they are going against each other, rather than in tandem.
Europe’s plans carry the most fear. The finding a year ago that Apple received sweetheart rulings from the Revenue Commissioners to the tune of €13bn has acted as a catalyst for more radical plans.
The proposals by the European Commission, although opposed by more countries than just Ireland, are far reaching. They involve taxing hi-tech companies and others on their sales in individual countries, imposing taxes on payments and a tax on online ads. It is no surprise that they have been proposed. After all there are plenty of figures out there revealing how social media giants were able to reduce their corporation tax bills to fractions of a percentage point.
The US, however, is going another way. It has finally realised that its major companies are fed up with a tax rate of 35%, which has inhibited them for years from bringing profits from abroad to invest at home.
Of course, Donald Trump is just the latest president who has promised tax reform, only for plans to have never seen the actual light of day. An announcement does not equal a policy that can get through the highly partisan US political system.
But as I pointed out at the start of this column, there appear to be unstoppable forces behind reform. Part of the reason is the huge influence tech corporations have had on disrupting so much of global economy, while being seen not to pay their fair share of tax. The fallout from austerity in Europe has also been playing a part.
All of these plans are a threat to Ireland. Having had our reputation tarnished by the Apple ruling, Ireland must be central to influencing whatever is happening in Europe. That means trying ensure that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project is the way to move forward. Our veto on tax measures should also be used as a threat.
Beyond that, Ireland should go that one step further to ensure there is nothing about our tax regime that is not fully open and transparent.
Ian Guider is markets editor of The Sunday Business Post
"Ireland should go that one step further to ensure there is nothing about our tax regime that is not fully transparent"