quinta-feira, junho 12, 2008

Promoting Genuine Fiscal Competition should be EU aim

Corporate tax is back on the European agenda. France intends to use its presidency of the European Union later this year to pursue plans for a single, voluntary, corporation tax base for multinational companies.
The purpose of the common consolidated corporate tax base is that a company operating in several countries could choose to agree on one taxable profit total for the whole group. Tax revenues would then be charged and distributed among the countries where it operated, on the basis of a formula that took into account where the economic activity occurred and the domestic tax rate in each country.
This approach has some merits. A multinational which opted into the scheme would reduce its compliance burden, since it would be following just one set of tax rules. The regime would also allow losses in one part of a group to be offset against gains elsewhere.
More importantly, it could encourage genuine tax competition. If a company relocates its operations to a lower-tax economy, the government which has provided that environment should benefit. This is a different matter from allowing countries to divert tax revenues from profits generated in other countries. By declaring the profits of groups as a whole, the common tax base would prevent companies declaring their profits in low-tax jurisdictions even if they were earned elsewhere.
There are two main problems with the proposals. First, a voluntary scheme is not a very effective weapon to deal with the practice of exporting profits to low-tax jurisdictions. Yet compulsion would prevent countries from being able to compete as they should on the size and shape of the tax base.
Second, reaching agreement on a tax code and the basis of splitting revenues between countries would be very difficult and time-consuming, since the interests of EU countries differ so widely. Efforts to achieve accord might well be at the expense of more realistic fiscal improvements.
The goal for European fiscal policymakers should be a regime that enhances genuine competition among economies. It should allow countries to use tax as a basis for promoting themselves as places to do business. It should also aim to deter distortion of that competition by making it harder for multinational companies to seek their own advantage by breaking the link between where their activities generate profit and where those profits are taxed. Any moves France can make in that direction during its presidency will be welcome.

The Financial Times Limited

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