Tech giants tax project blocked by lack of political agreement

The 137 countries negotiating under the aegis of the OECD have failed to find an agreement so that large digital companies "pay their fair share of taxes", at the risk of relaunching the "trade war" in the midst of a pandemic. “In the worst-case scenario, these conflicts could reduce global GDP by more than 1%,” notes the OECD, which is leading these international negotiations.

"The glass is half full: the package is almost ready but a political agreement is missing," Pascal Saint-Amans, head of fiscal policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, admitted Monday.

If the OECD is confident to achieve by mid-2021, its Secretary-General Angel Gurria predicted, in the event of definitive failure, "an increase in unilateral actions, reprisal measures".

While these new tax rules, in addition to pacifying international economic relations, could bring in 200 billion dollars a year, welcome as the pandemic has "widened the public deficits", argued Mr. Gurria at a conference of hurry. Opposite, the digital giants have "taken advantage" of the digitization of the economy, accelerated by the various containment measures in the world.

A minimum tax rate of 12.5%

In the meantime, the 137 countries participating in the negotiations have defined the overall framework of this reform. Objective: that "large profitable companies operating internationally pay their fair share of tax in the jurisdiction where they make profits", and not only, as has been the case until now, in the country where they operate. their "permanent establishment".

For example, Facebook achieved a turnover of nearly 70 billion dollars in 2019, but paid 8.46 million euros in corporate tax in France in 2019. A tiny part of the 6 , 3 billion in taxes paid by the group, mainly in the United States.

To counter tax competition, the reform also provides for the establishment of a minimum global tax rate, which could be set at 12.5%.

This roadmap will be presented on Wednesday to the finance ministers of the G20 countries, which gave the OECD mandate in 2018 to reform, at the latest before the end of 2020, an international tax system rendered obsolete by the emergence of the GAFA (an acronym for Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple). The complex process was launched in 2013.

On the European side, we strove Monday to also see the "glass half full". "The work carried out at the technical level constitutes a solid basis for finally having a political decision", welcomed the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, while his German counterpart Olaf Scholz sees in this agreement on the main principles " a huge step forward ".

The American blockade, Paris brandishes its threat

On the contrary, criticizing proposals that "fall short", the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), a think tank bringing together top jurists and economists, called on countries to take no action. expect "unilateral measures" which would at least have the advantage of "promoting higher revenues as long as broader reforms are blocked by the main members of the OECD".

Starting with the United States, which suspended its participation in these discussions until the presidential election of November 3. But once this deadline has passed, and even with a new administration, nothing says that Washington will side with the international solution.

Faced with the American blockade, France adopted a tax on digital giants, which has already been levied in 2019, but had agreed to suspend the payment of deposits due in 2020 to give the OECD process a chance, and appease Washington, which threatens commercial retaliation.

But in the absence of an agreement, the down payment on the 2020 tax will be taken by the end of the year, and the balance will have to be paid in early 2021, the finance ministry said.

It remains to be seen whether the European Union can make a difference. At their last summit in July, the 27 asked the European Commission to present a proposal for a "digital license fee" during the first half of 2021. A complex project, however, given the very divergent tax strategies of the Member States in digital matters.

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