Australia has been elected the inaugural chair of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes (the Global Forum).
At its Mexico meeting on 1 and 2 September 2009 the Global Forum elected Australia chair for a two-year term. China, Germany and Bermuda were elected as vice chairs.
Assistant Treasurer Senator Nick Sherry said it was an honour that Australia was chosen out of the 62 jurisdictions present.
'Under Australia's chairmanship, the Global Forum has set itself a wide-ranging agenda for the coming years,' Senator Sherry said.
'The agenda will boost the overall integrity of the international tax and financial system, as we plot the path to recovery from the global recession,' he said.
The Global Forum was established by the OECD in 2000 to monitor tax havens and promote tax information exchange. It aims to stop evaders from using banking secrecy to shield abusive tax arrangements and has played a central role in developing internationally accepted standards of transparency.
The September meeting of the Global Forum was attended by almost 200 delegates and focused on improving transparency and exchange of banking and ownership information.
As a result of the meeting, a Peer Review Group (the Group) was formed to ensure the international standards developed by the OECD and endorsed by the G20 and the United Nations are fully implemented.
The first priority for the group, of which Australia is a member, is to measure the effectiveness of the information exchange provided by members of the Global Forum. A progress report is scheduled for the end of 2009.
Tax Office Assistant Commissioner International Relations, Malcolm Allen said the Global Forum was all about ensuring effective and transparent exchange of information, particularly among tax havens.
'Over the past 10 years we've been working hard to get all countries to agree to greater transparency and easier exchange of information arrangements - that work is now paying off,' Mr Allen said.
The forum also decided to expand its membership and to speed up the process of negotiating and concluding information exchange agreements. For example, it resolved to build a 'technical assistance program' to help smaller jurisdictions implement the standards quickly.
The Mexico meeting coincided with the publication of the Global Forum's annual report, Tax Cooperation 2009: Towards a Level Playing Field - 2009 Assessment by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information. The report notes that the standards are now almost universally accepted.
As reported in issue one of Targeting Tax Crime, Australia has already implemented the standards - a commitment reflected in our many double taxation and exchange agreements.
Australia has signed nine exchange agreements with individual countries to promote the exchange of information and we are in advanced negotiations with another 16 jurisdictions.
Most recently, on 28 October 2009, Senator Sherry signed an agreement with the Cook Islands.
Senator Sherry said the pace with which jurisdictions are coming onboard is continuing to increase - the Cooks Islands is now the fourth jurisdiction to sign a tax information exchange agreement with Australia in as little as four months.