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The idea of a political space in international tax issue discussions in the framework of the United Nations is still blocked by the OECD. Though not much interest has been seen from developing countries either, its implementation is crucial.
Last week on June 5th, the UN Expert Group (UNEG) brought together all major international organizations working in the area of international taxation, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Center of Tax Administrations (CIAT), in order to account to ECOSOC about the work done in order to discuss cooperation between these agencies.
Two core topics were raised to discuss the background: one is BEPS (Tax Base Erosion and Profit Shifting for the transfer of benefits) and the other topic is the extractive sector, both are sub-groups created by UNEG recently. But in this meeting, the fact is that, the important debate had little to do with substantial matters, and they focused rather on institutional architecture issues. Just debating whether the pending reforms of international taxation systems need space and if domestic policy decisions were needed from the United Nations, or if they were going to leave everything to the OECD, is their actual dilemma.
They do not like UNEG
The point about this is, those who run the countries are represented by members of ECOSOC who can decide if they want to build such a space or not. And here the scenario is simple: developing countries do want that this political space is generated in the United Nations, while developed countries – led by the United States – are opposed to the creation of such a space, since they already have the OECD.
UNEG includes officials from the tax authorities of 25 countries, half of these are members of the OECD and the other half are developing countries , which technically do not really represent their countries since they only provide their skills acting as ‘experts’.
The truth is that there is still no political will. And that is surely the reason why so little investment and resources are given to UNEG. It will be enough to tell that its secretariat consists of only two people, and their 25 expert members are only gathered in thematic subgroups and work remotely, taking so they only have the General Assembly in October as an opportunity to actually meet physically.
The Roads of UNEG
In June 2011, the UNEG Secretariat launched the first special session at ECOSOC, giving a start to the discussions related to the international cooperation subject, and then generated a report . It describes the development of various UNEG actors and activities taking place at regional and global level, on issues about taxation showing that this architecture can and should be improved, particularly with the assistance of UNEG. Finally, the Secretariat of UNEG draws three possible roads to improve international cooperation.
The first road leads to change everything so that nothing changes: it is inviting to strengthen existing institutions, trying to minimize the gaps and deepen on good experiences.
The second road seems to be more ambitious: it is about creating a political body in ECOSOC as a head of the international tax issues at global level, and having a clear mandate and significant resources.
The third road is more realistic. Current UNEG remains, but only in a specific commission in ECOSOC, just to monitor its work and give it the needed political sound and more resources to work.
This means that, since this 2011 meeting, UNEG has established an annual meeting every month of June joining all international agencies and ECOSOC in order to maintain and deepen the debate on whether countries want UNEF to be “intergovernmentalized” (roads 2 and 3) or, if UNEG prefers to keep the status quo (road 1).
The United States says, just as France or the European Union stated, it would be a shame that the UNEG were duplicating activities that are already being very well done by others, including the OECD.
The North-South Devide
The gap between the interests of developing countries and those of developed countries on international tax issues remains, it is still there. Developing countries are in general, really interested in reopening the discussion about distribution of the tax base on the double taxation treaties. And also in discussing about tax competition for their economies as well as raising the issue of BEPS in extractive dynamics.
So, these countries have an interest in a global space policy debate, they worry about taxation issues to be discussed there where they are well represented. Nevertheless, G-77 and China (the most active group with 130 developing countries present in the midst of the United Nations framework) expressed through the voice of its presidency – this year it was performed by Bolivia – in their official position: we want UNEG to become an intergovernmental space .
The United States said, just as France or the European Union did, it would be a shame if UNEG, duplicates activities that already are being very well done in other places, including the OECD. And they stated that it is for that reason they are not in favor of such intergovernmentalisation for UNEG, they rather prefer to be in favor of the “strengthening institutional adjustments.”
Again this year, there were no surprises at the end, there is still the same changing everything, so nothing changes. The only thing that may surprise actually was the fact that of the countries in the ECOSOC, the number of representatives who dared to listen and comment on matters of taxation never hit 30 and so: was it ignorance or lack of complaint?
 French Analyst in international taxation, a member of Latindadd.
 Even though some developing countries are OECD countries, such as Chile and Mexico and have experts in the UNEG.