Africa Group “confident” resolution to move tax rules from OECD to UN will pass
The Africa Group at the UN announced today that it will take to a vote at the UN next week its resolution to begin negotiations on a framework convention. Despite attempts led primarily by France and the EU bloc to derail the vote, the Africa Group has pressed on with the strongest of the options discussed in recent negotiations at the UN. The Africa Group’s chair said the group is confident that the resolution will be adopted at a vote that will “most likely” take place next week.1
The framework convention will eventually move decision-making on global tax rules from the OECD – a small club of rich countries where this has sat for over 60 years – to the UN, prompting tax justice campaigners to herald the moment as a “global democratic revolution”.
Amelia Evans, the Tax Justice Network’s advocacy consultant in New York, said:
“Thanks to the leadership of African countries, the world is now potentially days away from ushering in a global democratic revolution in tax that can finally put people before tax havens.”
Next week’s UN vote will be the culmination of a years-long tussle for leadership over global tax rules. For the past 60 years, global tax rules have been decided by a small club of rich countries at the OECD. A great global majority has developed in recent years in favour of negotiating global tax rules at a globally inclusive and transparent forum at the UN instead, following frustration with the OECD’s failure to curb the harm of tax havens and failure to meaningfully include the majority of the world in its decision-making.
Africa Group appeals to “shared humanity” of EU and OECD members
Speaking at a press conference at the UN today, the Chair of the Africa Group H.E. Dr. Chola Milambo said:2
“This Framework Convention is not merely a policy document; it is a beacon of hope for developing countries that have long sought a voice in the shaping of international tax norms.
“To our partners in the OECD, the EU, the US and the UK, I appeal to your understanding of our shared humanity. This Convention is not just a fiscal tool; it is a lifeline to millions who aspire for better healthcare, education and a life of dignity. Your support is crucial in turning this vision into a reality.
“In essence, this Convention is about humanizing our approach to global economics. It’s about creating a system that serves not just economies but the people at their core. It represents a commitment to a future where every nation, regardless of its economic stature, can thrive.
“In conclusion, on behalf of the African Group, I appeal for collaborative effort and consensus in realizing this Convention. Together, we can forge a global tax system that is truly representative, fair and effective, benefiting every nation and every citizen.”
Fewer than 1 in 5 countries objected to framework convention on tax
The Tax Justice Network reports today, based on its knowledge of negotiations, that fewer than 1 in 5 UN member states objected to a draft resolution circulated during negotiations on Tuesday this week that supported beginning negotiations on a framework convention on tax. The Africa Group indicated today that they will bring forward a similar resolution for the final vote next week that also seeks to begin negotiations on a framework convention on tax.
The Tax Justice Network understands that number of countries that blocked consensus on Tuesday’s draft resolution is around a third less than the 56 countries who were reported last week by the Tax Justice Network to have publicly attempted to block, or publicly expressed their opposition to, a UN tax convention in the past.3
The months of debates and negotiations at the UN, and the shrinking number of objectors to Tuesday’s draft resolution, have made it clear that the OECD no longer has the support of the vast majority of countries to lead on global tax rules.
The Tax Justice Network understands that the EU bloc, led by France and under lobbying pressure from the OECD, is now the main obstacle to global consensus to move global tax rules from the OECD to the UN. All 27 EU countries, all of which are OECD members too, objected to the draft resolution on Tuesday as a bloc. Just one member of the OECD’s Inclusive Framework, which consists of over 100 non-OECD member countries, is understood to have opposed Tuesday’s draft resolution to move global tax rules away from the OECD to the UN.
Notably, not all OECD members objected to Tuesday’s draft resolution, further indicating the OECD’s dwindling support is now primarily coming from the EU.
“Confident the resolution will go through”
The Chair of the Africa Group said during the press conference that the group is confident that the resolution will go through next week. “However we seek a broad political endorsement of this initiative,” the chair said. “Just as we seek an inclusive tax system, we also advocate for broad political endorsement.”
The Africa Group’s confidence that a resolution largely similar to the draft resolution blocked by the EU bloc earlier this week will be adopted indicates the strength of the support the group has receive from around the world. The ball is now in the court of the EU bloc on whether to publicly vote against the biggest global demand in history at the UN for democratic decision-making on global tax rules, and whether to participate in negotiations that begin next year.
Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki specifically called on EU countries and the UK, in his op-ed in the Financial Times on Tuesday, to join the majority at the UN in favour of UN tax leadership:
“Regrettably, the EU, together with the UK, continues to argue against the UN option. Obviously, it would be desirable if the current draft resolution before the General Assembly, which proposes that the UN should establish the bodies and processes to negotiate the tax convention, is adopted by consensus. Therefore, I appeal to the UK government and its counterparts in the EU to join the majority of UN member states, which represent the bulk of the world’s poor, and vote to sit at the same table as the representatives of developing countries.”4
Alex Cobham, chief executive at the Tax Justice Network, who is currently in New York for the negotiations, said:
“The great majority of countries are ready to move on from the OECD, and want to start negotiating global tax rules at the UN instead. But while the OECD has told people this is an existential threat, the organisation would actually be freed up to focus on what it does best: providing technical assistance to its members. The OECD was never designed to provide a forum for transparent, inclusive negotiations, and asking it to do so has been like asking a fish to climb a tree and then complaining when it fails. But sadly the OECD’s lobbying has led the EU to stand increasingly alone in seeking to block the biggest global demand in history for democratic tax reform.
“The EU knows the failings of international tax rules result in its own member states, and their citizens, losing more revenue to tax havens than any other region of the world.5 And the EU knows the global majority wants to sit together in a fair, transparent setting and agree more effective rules. But France and other EU countries are still digging their heels in and trying to block any chance the world has for change.
“Tax is fundamental for countries to build effective states, and deliver on the promise of human rights for their people. It is unthinkable that the EU would continue to defend the exclusion of most of the world’s countries from meaningful participation in setting the international tax rules. It seems likely that the Africa Group’s resolution will find majority support, and that negotiations will move ahead. But the reputational damage for France and the EU may be significant.”
Amelia Evans, the Tax Justice Network’s advocacy consultant in New York, said:
“Almost $5 trillion in public money will be lost to tax havens over the next 10 years if countries stick with the undemocratic tax rules set by the OECD.6 These unfit rules have been decided behind closed doors and out of the public eye by a handful of rich countries, tax havens and corporate lobbyists.
“Thanks to the leadership of African countries today, the world has a rare opportunity to undo decades of failed global tax policy and finally put people before tax havens by voting in favour of a convention on tax next week. A framework convention on tax would finally require global tax rules to be decided transparently and democratically at the UN, where governments can be held accountable by their people back home.
“It’s unconscionable however that EU governments are still pushing back against this change, and would rather keep losing billions to tax havens every year over bringing global tax rules into the daylight of democracy at the UN.”
The OECD has faced widespread criticism from a range of global bodies, regional blocs, prominent economists, researchers and NGOs for its inability to deliver effective measures to curb losses to tax havens and for its failure to meaningfully include the majority of the world in its decision-making.
This includes a report by the UN General Secretary published in August which levies unusually blunt criticism against the OECD, a resolution adopted by the EU Parliament in June, several statements by countries at the UN General Assembly last and at a debate this September, a public letter signed this month by over 200 NGOs from around the world, and studies published in recent years from several research organisations on the OECD’s performance.7
Tax experts argue that the lack of transparency, inclusivity or democratic process at the OECD, as well as entrenched conflicts of interests among its tax haven members who rank highly on the Corporate Tax Haven8 Index and Financial Secrecy Index9, have made the OECD incapable of curbing corporate tax losses to tax havens. 78 per cent of all tax losses countries suffer to tax havens each year are facilitated by OECD countries and their dependencies.10
Establishing a UN tax convention would completely change how global rules on tax are decided by requiring global tax rules to be negotiated and decided in a transparent and globally representative forum at the UN. Tax experts argue that UN’s democratic processes, public transparency and rights-based principles can allow a majority of countries to push through long-awaited tax reforms that have been blocked for years at the OECD where tax havens and lobbyists have oversized influence.
The official resolution document will be made available here (A/C.2/78/L.18/Rev.1).
Re-watch the Africa Group’s press conference here.
Re-watch the civil society event at the UN on a framework convention here.
Notes to editor
- A recording of the Africa Group’s press conference is available here. If you have trouble viewing the video, the video is also available on our website here. The transcript of the statement by the Chair of the African Group is available here.
- The transcript of the statement by the Chair of the African Group is available here.
- The Tax Justice Network’s newly launched Tax Justice Policy Trackerreported last week that a total of 56 countries (29% of countries at the UN) oppose a UN tax convention, while 117 countries (60% of countries at the UN) support a UN tax convention (for more info, see our press release about the tracker here). The Policy Tracker reports countries’ positions based on public statements and public actions they make. The Tax Justice Network can report today that the number of opposing voices in private negotiations to Tuesday’s draft resolution was about a third less than the number of opposing voices in public. Since the Tax Justice Policy Tracker basis its assessment of countries’ positions on statements and actions that are public, the positions taken in private negotiations on Tuesday are not reflected on the Policy Tracker.
- Read the full op-ed by the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki here.
- For more information on how much EU countries have lost to cross-border tax abuse by multinational corporations according to the OECD’s own data, see the new analysiswe published on Friday.
- For more on how much tax countries are expected to lose to tax havens over the next 10 years, see our State of Tax Justice 2023 report.
- The UN General Secretary published unusually blunt and comprehensive criticism in his report this summer on the “limited effectiveness” of the OECD’s rules and its lack of inclusivity. The EU parliament, in a resolution earlier this year that backed a legally-binding UN tax convention, reaffirmed global criticism that the OECD has not meaningfully include non-members in decision-making. Research by the BEPS Monitoring Group, published earlier this year, found the OECD’s proposals to be “fundamentally flawed”. A study by the South Centre and the Coalition for Dialogue with similar conclusions can be found here. A EU Tax Observatory report, which finds lower income countries would lose tax revenue under OECD proposals, can be found here. IMF research on the revenue returns to the OECD proposals supports findings by other bodies that the OECD proposal will make little to no impact on current levels of losses to cross-border tax abuse (see Figure 1 and Figure 5 on Pillar 1 and broader revenue impact here and a comparison of Pillar 1 with digital sales taxes for Asian countries here here). An account of how the OECD’s country by country reporting standard was watered down to keep corporate profit shifters anonymous is available here. An account of how the OECD’s global minimum tax rate was contorted to reward rather than restrain corporate tax havens is available here. An account of how the OECD’s pillar reform minimised the application and impact of unitary tax is available here.
- The Corporate Tax Haven Index is a ranking of countries most complicit in helping multinational corporations abuse tax. See the ranking here.
- The Financia Secrecy Index is a ranking of countries most complicit in helping individuals hide their finances from the rule of law. See the ranking here.
- See the State of Tax Justice 2023for more information.