The US is also blocking the world’s path toward an international rule of law for debt and finance. If bond markets, for example, are to work well, an orderly way of resolving cases of sovereign insolvency must be found. But today, there is no such way. Ukraine, Greece, and Argentina are all examples of the failure of existing international arrangements. The vast majority of countries have called for the creation of a framework for sovereign-debt restructuring. The US remains the major obstacle.
Private investment is important, too. But the new investment provisions embedded in the trade agreements that the Obama administration is negotiating across both oceans imply that accompanying any such foreign direct investment comes a marked reduction in governments’ abilities to regulate the environment, health, working conditions, and even the economy.
The US stance concerning the most disputed part of the Addis Ababa conference was particularly disappointing. As developing countries and emerging markets open themselves to multinationals, it becomes increasingly important that they can tax these behemoths on the profits generated by the business that occurs within their borders. Apple, Google, and General Electric have demonstrated a genius for avoiding taxes that exceeds what they employed in creating innovative products.
All countries – both developed and developing – have been losing billions of dollars in tax revenues. Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released information about Luxembourg’s tax rulings that exposed the scale of tax avoidance and evasion. While a rich country like the US arguably can afford the behavior described in the so-called Luxembourg Leaks, the poor cannot.
I was a member of an international commission, the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, examining ways to reform the current tax system. In a report presented to the International Conference on Financing for Development, we unanimously agreed that the current system is broken, and that minor tweaks will not fix it. We proposed an alternative – similar to the way corporations are taxed within the US, with profits allocated to each state on the basis of the economic activity occurring within state borders.
The US and other advanced countries have been pushing for much smaller changes, to be recommended by the OECD, the advanced countries’ club. In other words, the countries from which the politically powerful tax evaders and avoiders come are supposed to design a system to reduce tax evasion. Our Commission explains why the OECD reforms were at best tweaks in a fundamentally flawed system and were simply inadequate
Developing countries and emerging markets, led by India, argued that the proper forum for discussing such global issues was an already established group within the United Nations, the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters, whose status and funding needed to be elevated. The US strongly opposed: it wanted to keep things the same as in the past, with global governance by and for the advanced countries.
New geopolitical realities demand new forms of global governance, with a greater voice for developing and emerging countries. The US prevailed in Addis, but it also showed itself to be on the wrong side of history.