Just a warning: this is going to be a column about tax. Nonetheless, please read on. The subject, unfortunately, is on my mind I pen this column due to being in the process of trying to decipher my own personal tax forms.
Eyes tend to glaze over when talk turns to the minutiae of taxes, mine included – but on a macro scale the issue of taxes is important, inflammatory and omnipresent. So it is worth paying attention, especially for those in the economic development world.
The global tax landscape is in flux at the moment, and most of the changes do not lend themselves to making jobs any easier for those charged with attracting inward investment, nor for corporate accountants.
Locations with rising tax rates may find it harder to compete, especially those that do not offer other attractions to offset higher tax bills. But as the number of locations in the high-tax category increases, companies may find it harder to find a good deal. Corporate tax rates are on the rise, while companies are feeling public pressure to pay more tax in countries in which they invest.
If ever there was a fun time to be a tax accountant (of which I am doubtful), certainly it is not now.
In the choice between offering competitive rates and filling budget holes – while also placating restive publics angry over perceived corporate largess and banking excesses – more governments are opting for the latter. A survey from tax advisory Taxand found that the majority of new tax regulations introduced in 2012 revolved around increasing rates for multinational companies. And tax policies are becoming ever more complex. Loopholes are being sealed off at every turn, and crossborder tax harmonisation – the dream of many a corporate leader – slips further and further away.
Tax was on the agenda at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, with tough talk by politicians about stepping up efforts against tax evasion by companies and clamping down on the methods used to avoid tax payments. Such talk is set to ratchet up ahead of the G8 summit in June, where world leaders will be competing to see who can best play the role of bad cop. But a balance will need to be struck between getting a fair deal for the public purse, and not scaring off potential investors.
On the corporate side, the advice that Taxand chairman Frédéric Donnedieu de Vabres gives to companies is to increase their dialogue with the relevant tax authorities in the early stages of an investment project, in order to gain a clear picture of tax implications. The expression is that talk is cheap, but when it comes to tax it can be very expensive. So can not talking.