SUPPORTING INCLUSIVE AND EFFECTIVE PARTICIPATION OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING INTERNATIONAL TAX COOPERATION LANDSCAPE

This year’s ATI side event at UN ECOSOC Financing for Development Forum brought together ATI members, representatives of developing countries, the OECD, and high-level officials to exchange on the inclusiveness and effectiveness of international tax cooperation from the perspective of developing countries.
The side event which was co-organised in the framework of the 2024 Financing for Development Forum in collaboration with Norad- Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and the permanent missions of Norway and Zambia to the United Nations examined pressing questions such as: What is the role of developing countries in the international tax landscape and what is the impact of recent developments on them? Has developing countries’ capacity to participate in agenda-setting improved over the past few years? And what are the opportunities for a more robust and inclusive international tax cooperation?

The event started with opening remarks from H.E. Ms. Bjørg Sandkjær (State Secretary for International Development, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), who accentuated the pivotal role of domestic revenue mobilisation (DRM) in fortifying public trust, funding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and addressing the ongoing crisis of inequality. Furthermore, she pointed to the threat illicit financial flows (IFFs) pose to democracy and the importance of international tax cooperation in this regard.  H.E. Ms. Bjørg Sandkjær reiterated Norway’s support to the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI). She also expressed support to the OECD’ two-pillar solution and the UN Tax Convention while stressing the need for the latter to build on the progress made by the OECD process.

“The crisis that we are in … is at its core a crisis of inequality”. 

 

H. E. Ms. Bjørg Sandkjær, State Secretary for International Development, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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H. E. Ms. Sandkjær (Norway) delivering the opening remarks to the ATI side event in the context of 2024 UN ECOSOC's FfD Forum © GIZ

 

The panel discussion revolved around two themes. The first segment addressed aspects of participation of ATI and developing countries in shaping global tax agenda while the second segment examined challenges in capacity and ways forward.

 

The participation of developing countries in the international tax landscape

Panellists representing the views of ATI/developing countries emphasised the necessity for a universally inclusive international cooperation framework that accommodates the diverse needs and capacities of all countries. This framework should not only support countries in implementing effective DRM but also facilitate their active participation in global tax governance and agenda-setting. Currently developing countries can voice their position but the possibilities to impact the agenda are limited. Such participation is vital for ensuring that the rules of international tax cooperation are fair and factor in the unique challenges faced by developing nations.

“The OECD Inclusive Framework is less significant for developing countries…it hasn’t led us far as we speak. In general, developing countries can have a say but are not able to impact the agenda”.

 

Dr. Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmed, Member of the UN Tax Committee (Pakistan)

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Dr. Ahmed (UN Tax Committee) addressing the discussion at the ATI side event in the context of 2024 UN ECOSOC's FfD Forum © GIZ

 

While significant progress has been made under the OECD’s inclusive framework, this progress has not occurred at the anticipated pace, underscoring the urgency for global reform. Addressing revenue mobilisation and IFFS needs to be dealt with urgently as this has direct implication on achieving the SDGs. A reference was made to the Secretary General's report on “the Promotion of Inclusive and Effective International Tax Cooperation at the United Nations” which addresses the roles of the UN and the OECD, acknowledging the OECD's efforts but pointing out the limitations African countries face in terms of financial and technical resources to fully engage.

Moreover, while the global tax system has gradually changed to allow more substantial inputs from developing countries, the structural barriers within the decision-making processes still limit their influence. For instance, despite improved mechanisms for input, the weight of these inputs in final decisions often falls short of being truly impactful. This dynamic was observed in the discussions, highlighting a pattern where developing countries can voice their concerns but struggle to see these concerns translated into action, policy changes, and ultimately revenue.

The OECD representative acknowledged that there is an urgent need for maximising revenue while highlighting that any global process is going to be challenging and will carry a price for consensus and compromise. He also conceded that these processes - framework relating to the exchange of information, taxation of MNEs, etc. - are not perfect but that they “demonstrate the art of the possible”.

 

Challenges relating to Capacity and Engagement

Despite the positive strides towards inclusivity, developing countries face persistent challenges in effectively engaging in the global tax agenda. Capacity constraints, particularly in formulating and implementing complex international tax rules, continue to penalise these nations. The discussions underscored that while there are better opportunities for developing countries to convey their perspectives, the actual impact on agenda-setting remains limited. The issue of capacity constraints extends beyond mere participation; it involves hurdles tied to the ability to negotiate and implement the complex international tax rules that are decided at global fora. Not only does this gap prevent effective engagement but it also perpetuates a cycle where the needs and concerns of developing countries are inadequately represented or addressed.

“You have a mismatch between capacity needed on the ground for tax collection and those resources engaging in international frameworks”.

 

  Mr. Thulani Shongwe, Senior Manager Africa Multilateral Cooperation, ATAF

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Mr. Shongwe (ATAF) addressing the discussion at the ATI side event in the context of 2024 UN ECOSOC's FfD Forum © GIZ

 

One major challenge identified for ATI/developing countries is the cost associated with global frameworks; despite devoting capacity to global mechanisms such as the exchange of information frameworks and the CbCR, developing countries have struggled to convert the information provided into actual revenue. This is underscored by the lack of human resources with the necessary technical expertise, which in turn, underscores the need for capacity building within tax administrations.

The speakers agreed that there exists a significant disparity between the operational capacities in developing countries and those engaged in international tax frameworks. This emphasises  the need to find a balance between these capacities to ensure equitable development. An example which was put forward is that of the transparency agenda: designed to ensure accountability, it is often too cumbersome to comply with, resulting in penalties for developing nations. On the other hand, it was recognised that ATAF has received support from development partners, notably from Norad, to execute an agenda that its members want and one that encapsulates their views and interests. The topic of the need for a minimum tax rate constitutes a good example.

Furthermore, these capacity constraints are not limited to technical expertise but include financial resources necessary to participate in lengthy and complex international negotiations. Developing countries often lack the resources to send representatives to multiple rounds of discussions or to sustain the continuous engagement required to influence global tax policies effectively.

The financial constraint is also tied to required investment in technology to ensure adequate benefits from the implementation of international standards such as the CbCR.

“The SDGs are hung by a thread….You have to take a broader consideration of the current mechanisms and place the international tax agenda in its domestic context”. 

 

Mr. Ben Dickinson, Head of Global Relations and Development Division, Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, OECD

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Mr. Dickinson (OECD) participating in the panel discussion at the ATI side event in the context of 2024 UN ECOSOC's FfD Forum © GIZ

 

This situation calls for a more structured approach to capacity building in developing nations, not only in the realm of technical tax capacity building but also in support when it comes to negotiation and strategic policymaking. International support for capacity building should be enhanced, ensuring that it is sustained, contextually appropriate, and directly linked to the specific needs of the countries involved. This support should aim to empower developing countries not just to participate, but to effectively influence and shape the international tax agenda.

“There are measures that need to be taken at the national level... but we also need to address the loopholes at the international level otherwise they undermine efforts at the domestic level". 

 

Ms. Chenai C. Mukumba, Executive Director, Tax Justice Network Africa

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Ms. Mukumba (TJNA) engaging in the discussion at the ATI side event in the context of 2024 UN ECOSOC's FfD Forum © GIZ

 

Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders to ensure that inclusivity and equity in global tax governance are not merely goals but a reality. It is imperative that future reforms in international tax cooperation frameworks genuinely reflect the diverse economic realities and capacities of all countries involved, fostering a more balanced and fair global tax system.

 

The Path forward

There was a strong consensus among participants on the need to foster a fair and coherent international tax system. This collaborative effort requires a shared commitment to transparency and dialogue in order to align priorities. Engaging in dialogue will help to maintain momentum in the pursuit of reforms and ensure that the evolving needs of all stakeholders are met.

The path forward involves nurturing opportunities for collaboration through regular interactions, shared learning experiences, technical assistance and capacity building as part of the collective efforts to achieve the SDGs.

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H. E. Mr. Milambo (Zambia) delivering his closing remarks to the ATI side event in the context of 2024 UN ECOSOC's FfD Forum © GIZ

 

In his closing remarks, H.E. Mr. Chola Milambo, Zambia's Ambassador to the UN, declared that while the participation of developing countries in international tax discussions has increased, several gaps need to be addressed. He described the UN Tax Convention resolution as a historical and proud moment, and stated that the Mbeki report is an inspiration in keeping the focus on addressing domestic and international gaps to increase DRM. In his view, DRM remains critical for the capacity to provide services, invest in the climate, and address gender inequalities.

“Going forward engagements like this help the process to continue the exchange of views of voices everywhere - and this is the spirit of inclusivity that we must push for”.

 

H.E. Mr. Chola Milambo, Zambia's Ambassador to the UN.

 

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Participants to the ATI side event © GIZ
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Panelists and organisers of the ATI side event "International Tax Cooperation at a Crossroads: Supporting Inclusive and Effective Participation of Developing Countries in a Rapidly Changing International Tax Cooperation Landscape" © GIZ