Catch all?

Tax policies around the world have inadvertently fuelled the global financial
crisis by encouraging companies to use debt rather than equity. This is one of
the main findings of our policy paper called Competition or Co-ordination:
Reassessing Tax in a Global Environment.

Should there be competition or co-ordination when it comes to taxation? G20
leaders have proposed improved co-ordination between national authorities as a
key aspect of restoring confidence in global financial regulation.

But is there a need for similar action in the field of taxation? Finding a
way forward is a difficult balancing act.

Global co-ordination is vital to make sure that tax is fair and transparent.
While differences can be tolerated, ACCA’s view is that distortions and
inconsistencies in tax systems need to be ironed out.

We make seven clear recommendations in the report. One of the most important
is the need for governments to address national tax rules which distort
behaviour, and reward one financing route over another. Care should be taken to
avoid sudden changes, as this could require significant wholesale restructuring
that could have unintended consequences.

And while leaps have been made during 2009 regarding the transparency of tax
havens, there is still a need for tax havens to provide information freely to
governments about nationals who use those jurisdictions. Large nations should
not focus attention on tax havens as a distraction from the need to sort out
their own finances.

The EU and other leading nations should act to resolve the remaining barriers
to free trade, and continue to refrain from pressuring “flat-tax” countries to
raise their tax rates in the name of “harmonisation”. National sovereignty in
tax policy should be respected.

Governments and policy makers must take a holistic view of the place of green
taxes in their tax systems. These taxes do have a role to play, but there should
not be over reliance placed on them because, where they are successful, they
diminish their own tax base. Global co-ordination is needed to maximise the
impact of environmental taxation.

Consideration should also be given to independent tax committees playing a
key role in the creation of tax policies. ACCA has cherished this idea for a
number of years ­ indeed it was first mentioned in Accountancy Age
nearly ten years ago. The passing of time has still not made tax policy planning
a transparent exercise.

The recommendations made in this report would go a long way to addressing
some of the challenging current issues in the field of international tax. Tax
policy is, and must remain, in the hands of sovereign national governments,
which should be able to run regimes suited to their stages of economic
development, such as the flat-tax systems in post-communist countries in Eastern

Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation, ACCA

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