G20 chiefs ready to slug multinationals with tough tax laws
Leaders of the world's richest countries meeting at the Group of 20 summit in St Petersburg are set to sign a sweeping new set of tax rules for multinational companies.
They are expected to agree to enact new tax laws that would limit the ability of multinationals such as Apple and Starbucks to legally avoid paying taxes by operating subsidiary companies in some countries.
The practice came under fire during the global recession as national coffers were strained and leaders looked for new revenue sources.
The heads of state at the two-day meeting are expected to issue a communique to address the tax overhaul and other issues of economic policy.
Although the meeting is overshadowed by the Syrian crisis, and deep divisions between nations over possible US military action there, the heads of state are still expected to endorse an economic policy statement that will encourage continuing fiscal stimulus, or government spending, to help the global recovery.
Germany, in the driver's seat of European economic policy, objected at first but appeared ready to agree to a statement endorsing fiscal stimulus issued at a ministerial-level meeting in Moscow in July.
That meeting encouraged governments to co-ordinate tapering of monetary stimulus programs such as the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing. The end of cheap credit has dampened growth in emerging markets as investors bring money back to the US to take advantage of rising interest rates there.
On Thursday, Russia's Deputy Finance Minister, Sergei Storchak, said the leaders were set to endorse a statement on Friday.
"It's not going to be more than the agreements that were reached in Moscow," Mr Storchak said.
In a reflection of the depth of concern about currency outflows caused by rising interest rates in the US - meaning investors can obtain similar returns as in emerging markets at far lower risk - the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) announced their intention to create a e fund of $US100 billion ($109.5 billion) to defend weakening local currencies. It was unclear when it would be operating and able to intervene in currency trading.
The effort at tax reform, if implemented, would squeeze more money from multinationals and shift a portion of the global tax burden from individuals and small businesses to large corporations. The proposal is for countries to co-ordinate tax treaties and act on loopholes that multinationals exploit by registering businesses in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. Another tactic of concern is shifting profits to low-tax countries and costs to high-tax ones.
In one widely cited example, Starbucks last year paid no corporate tax in Britain despite generating sales of nearly $US630 million from more than 700 stores in that country. The company volunteered to pay more in coming years. Apple, despite being the most profitable US technology company, avoided billions in taxes around the world through a web of complex subsidiaries.
Even with the G20 agreement, it will take years to put legislation in place, and companies that have structured their business to comply with the present laws are likely to lobby to retain these advantages. The reforms would encourage all nations to adopt standardised tax treaties to replace the web of thousands of such agreements that exist now.