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By Jason Piper, tax and business law manager, ACCA

Among the themes covered in the ongoing debates around BEPS and international tax, there’s been a strand of discussion around “tax competition” – the practice by governments of attempting to make their jurisdiction look more attractive than others by reducing the tax burden on businesses.

The argument runs that by encouraging a move away from taxation of business, tax havens and rich countries are imperilling developing countries who need tax revenues.

But if making your tax system “competitive” costs you money, why would anyone bother? Perhaps because the indirect consequence is that you make more out of the VAT, PAYE and simple GDP effects of inward investment than you lose by reducing the tax due on any profits that the company may book in your jurisdiction.

For that to work though, you need a number of conditions to be true. In particular, you need to have effective collection mechanisms for VAT, and a secure taxpaying base of employees. You need to be comfortable that you have the economic capacity to service the increased production and demand for the GDP growth to have value.

For most developed countries that is very much the case. They typically collect 30-40% of GDP in taxes, and less than 10% of that comes from corporation tax – so 3-4% of GDP is collected as corporation taxes. But in developing countries, the level of GDP collected as tax falls to 10-20%, while the proportion of overall taxes attributable to corporation tax rises to nearer 20%. So we’re still looking at around 2-4% of GDP collected as corporation tax.

And that means that the economics of “tax competition” doesn’t work for a developing country; it would need to have twice the GDP impact per pound of corporate profit untaxed to get in the same level of VAT or employee income tax as recompense – yet proportionally the amount of tax that developing countries should typically be able to extract from the international businesses who might invest in them should be far higher. The reason that big business goes to developing countries is typically natural resources – and those resources are not typically mobile. If business wants them, there’s only the one jurisdiction they’ll be coming from, so the local government should have business in a firm grip when it comes to extracting tax revenues.

And there’s another twist. Remember those percentages of GDP collected as tax? Well, it’s generally reckoned that a nation needs to devote around 15% of its GDP to government in order for government to be stable. Or in other words, if you as a business are looking at investing into a market where less than 15% of GDP gets collected as tax, then you’ve got more to worry about than just business rates and form filling; there’s a good chance that the whole infrastructure will be unstable. Whether that’s political instability, or a lack of roads on which to transport your produce, there’s going to be additional risk factors to play into your analysis of whether the investment is sound.

And therein lies the challenge for a business decision maker. In a developed country, with a high level of maintained infrastructure and political stability, corporate tax is a pure cost to be managed down. The net marginal benefits accruing from payment are nil, while the government may even be prepared to forego those taxes in order to attract your business; official resistance to corporate tax minimisation is likely to be low.

In a developing country, taxes paid to central government may have a very real benefit to business, for the simple reason that without them the whole investment may become worthless in very short order. Tax is not so much a deduction from profits as a cost of sales; it’s an essential element in allowing those profits to be earned in the first place.

To be fair, this probably isn’t something that big business needs to be told. They know full well that however valuable the resource in a mine might be on paper, it’s worthless if they can’t safely extract and process it. Political stability is a key element of their risk analysis. If the people at the top of multinationals weren’t smart enough to have worked this stuff out for themselves, they wouldn’t be there.

But there’s a lot of other people who haven’t spent a lifetime making difficult decisions based on complex yet incomplete information. And if they end up running tax administrations, then there’s a risk that they might consider tax holidays for big business to be a good way forward to attract international investment – when in fact, it may be the very last thing they need, and the very last thing that a rational business would ask for. What’s sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander, or indeed the value burger of your choice. When it comes to domestic tax policies in respect of international investment, it most definitely is horses for courses.

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By Jason Piper, technical manager – tax and business law, ACCA

I’ve spent the last few weeks making people laugh. Not intentionally you understand; in fact, I’ve been talking about something which is really rather horrible. But every time someone asks “so what have you been up to then?” I’ve told them I’m putting the finishing touches to a paper on pillage. To be fair, not everyone laughs. Quite a few people just look puzzled. After all, I’m supposed to be working on business law and tax issues; pillage sounds more like an academic historian’s territory.

But here’s the thing, it’s not. Pillage isn’t about Viking longboats any more, or even squads of cavalry sweeping over the hill, knocking down haystacks and stealing barrels of beer. Pillage these days is big business. If you’re reading this then there’s a fair chance you’re doing so at least in part using pillaged goods. You may be wearing, eating and looking at things produced as a result of pillage.

We’re living in a world of long supply chains and minutely differentiated products. Someone recently worked out there were over a million variants on one new model of car launched by GM. You can order your mobile phone in the colour of your choice, buy cheap clothes at the out-of-town mall full of chains stores you choose, and buy customised birthday cards one at a time off the internet. And behind that incredible array of choices lies a global web of trade and manufacture which almost defies comprehension. Not so long ago in Europe, it was discovered that horsemeat had been entering the human food chain, often labelled as beef. And supply chains were so long, so opaque, so poorly understood, that even the supermarkets who were supposedly at the head of them had to admit that they didn’t know what they were buying; they didn’t know what was going into their own-brand products.

Pillage is a legally defined criminal offence. It’s theft in the context of military action, and it’s a lot more common than perhaps we’d be comfortable thinking about. But it’s also hard to prove. And because there can be big money involved, there’s a very significant incentive for players further down the chain to close their eyes and close their minds to what may be going on. Minerals taken from mines in conflict zones, timber logged by warlords, cotton processed by victims of war, all can be classed as pillaged goods.

And over the last few years there have been a range of developments which have revitalised the importance of the crime. Pressure groups are looking at the jurisprudence of recent judgments and finding grounds to launch actions at corporate level. Consumers are more aware of supply chains. And theft, including handling of stolen goods, has become one of the offences which can lead to a conviction for money laundering.

So if you’re a business and there’s goods in your supply chain that might be tied up with pillage, you could be in trouble on 3 fronts – if the pressure groups can’t get a prosecution for war crimes, the authorities can come after you for financial crimes. And in either case, your PR consultants will (or at least, should be) waking in a cold sweat in the middle of the night thinking about the reputational damage that association with either event could cause – not to mention the bottom line impact of being barred from public procurement contracts.

Pillage is no laughing matter; it never has been. But now it is becoming more than ever the spectre behind the high street, a pollutive taint spreading throughout the production process of goods enjoyed around the world. If not for the sake of the victims, then at least for the sake of their own bottom line, business should be looking to do all it can to eradicate every link with pillaged goods.

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By Carol A Adams, Monash University, ACCA member of Global Forum for Sustainability

This year’s World Cup was supposed to be the “greenest ever”, with FIFA taking measures to account for the event’s greenhouse gas emissions, including an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

As the biggest sporting event on the planet, FIFA is under pressure to take its sustainability measures seriously. It provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness among hundreds of millions of people around the world and the potential to leave a lasting low carbon legacy in the cities that host it.

Accounting for greenhouse gas emissions helps identify where carbon emissions can be reduced. But like any form of accounting it is not an exact science and it is important to be mindful of what matters, what’s the purpose and what can and should be changed.

What’s in…

The key to calculating the size of the carbon footprint of the World Cup is deciding what’s in and what’s not. FIFA applies the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard, which aims to guide organisations in preparing a greenhouse gas emissions inventory that represents a true and fair account of emissions in a standardised way. This allows comparisons, for example, with other sporting events.

FIFA states that its carbon accounting includes the preparation phase and staging both the Confederation Cup and World Cup. That is, FIFA does not just include the World Cup event itself, but all the events leading up to it such as the draws and associated banquets.

FIFA has committed to reporting more than the minimum expected in a greenhouse gas inventory by including what are known as “Scope 3” emissions – indirect emissions that are beyond FIFA’s control. Reporting of Scope 3 emissions is optional. FIFA’s strategy and work on this can be found here.

Scope 3 emissions, of which spectator travel makes up by far the most, were estimated to make up of 98% of the World Cup Staging phase, so when included they make emissions actually under FIFA’s control look relatively small.

…and what’s out

Despite “going beyond the minimum” with its Scope 3 measures, FIFA does not account for emissions associated with infrastructure (known as embodied carbon) arguing that they are not under FIFA’s or the Local Organising Committee’s control or direct influence.

Yet major events could have significant influence through their assessment of bidders for infrastructure projects, including on social and environmental responsibility criteria.

For example, two strategies were used to reduce embodied emissions in London’s Olympic Park. Firstly, the use of low carbon concrete mixes. And second, designing structures that used less materials.

Although not considering these matters within its purview, FIFA has included the construction and demobilisation of temporary facilities.

Without greater effort to reduce and avoid emissions, FIFA’s commitment to buying carbon offsets could be seen as a smoke screen. But FIFA is demanding that bidders now have to provide information against a number of criteria including the management and governance processes in place to ensure the integration of environmental issues in planning.

There are other options for reducing event emissions that are not revealed by FIFA’s accounting: using existing infrastructure wherever possible, minimising embodied carbon in new infrastructure (and making sure it’s used afterwards), as well as filling venues and using good public transport.

Abandoned Olympic venues from around the world.

The power of sport to change the world

With increasing pressure to account for greenhouse emissions, cities like Melbourne whose economies rely on hosting events will need to invest increasingly in public transport, renewable energy sources, energy efficient accommodation and reducing emissions from waste.

As non-government organisations and others step up calls for transparency of the environmental impacts of events, cities that invest in measures to reduce those impacts are increasingly likely to be favourably viewed as venues. ClimateWorks Australia worked with the City of Melbourne on research to inform its approach to developing a road map towards a zero net emissions goal.

This identified a range of energy efficiency and other mitigation opportunities, including for large sporting facilities, which could reduce the city’s emissions by 30% by 2020. In the future such measures may make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful bid for a major event.

An independent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa found that, while the event produced lower carbon emissions than expected, most of this was due to fewer people attending the event. The goal of the 2010 World Cup was “carbon neutral”, but funding constraints meant many planned strategies to reduce or offset emissions weren’t enacted. However, the strategies that were used did appear to work – particularly new, more energy efficient stadiums.

A key innovation of that event was an Environmental Forum comprising of representatives from government departments, host cities and international agencies, such as UNEP, as well as members of the World Cup Local Organising Committee. It’s an approach that will have a lasting influence – a legacy for hosting cities.

Sport is central to our lives and has an incredible power to change how we feel and how we behave. Indeed, under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, rugby went a long way to bringing black and white South Africans together at a critical time and in a way that nothing else could.

By using its influence as the world’s largest sporting event, FIFA could leave a lasting environmental legacy by looking beyond that which it currently measures. In this way it can become a model for sustainable planning of large international events in the future.

More information will perhaps become available in the coming months, but based on available information, it seems that FIFA is hiding behind data and carbon offsets and lacks a strategy to make a real impact.

The Conversation

Carol Adams is a Professor at Monash University. Monash University and The Myer Foundation are founding partners of ClimateWorks Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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By Clare Minchington, executive director – strategy & development, ACCA

More than 450 education providers from around the world joined ACCA live at an online conference recently – Access ACCA – to find out more about the developments that we’re making to our qualifications to introduce added flexibility and relevance into our exams. My team shared detailed information about the changes we’re making, the timeframes we’re working towards, the potential impact and highlighted key resources to support our global education providers so they can continue to deliver high quality tuition through this transition.

It was really encouraging to see the level of support our education providers have for the future of our qualification and our vision as an organisation to be number one in developing professional accountants. Everyone agreed that the increased rigour and choice that we’re introducing into our qualifications are necessary to develop the next generation of finance professionals and meet the demand of businesses around the world.

We know that the changes we’re making will have a big impact on our partners. That’s why we’re taking a phased approach to each development instead of making any big bang changes. It’s important to use events like Access ACCA to inform and engage with our stakeholders and bring them on this journey with us.

During the conference there were a lot of questions about the introduction of four exam sessions, particularly about the impact this will have on students and education providers. With all of our developments, the overriding objective is to offer our customers more choice. Education providers can choose how to utilise the introduction of four sessions to maximise their business models. This could include introducing resit courses or developing courses that meet employer needs. Interestingly education providers told us during the conference that they will use the added flexibility to look at their tuition models to understand how they can restructure them to maximise the benefits.

Our aim is to introduce four sessions in 2016 following a pilot exercise the previous year. It’s important that we trial our changes and make sure that they work in the market place before rolling them out to everyone. This ensures that both students and education providers have the best exam experience possible.

We are also looking to add more choice and relevance into our assessments through the introduction of computer based exams (CBEs) for papers F5-F9, which we’re targeting for 2016.  As I’ve said we want to transition any changes over time to ensure that students and education providers have the time to adapt and adopt with minimum disruption.

During the conference we were able to reassure our education providers that we will maintain the rigour and the relevance of the qualification. ACCA is committed to delivering a qualification that helps build the complete finance professional. Tutors were impressed to learn about our exam trialling activities that we’ve undertaken as part of our exam development process, undertaken for the new formats being introduced for F4-F9 later in 2014. We are confident that the work we do to ensure the ACCA Qualification remains rigorous and relevant will ensure that it is as respected globally in the future, as it is today.

The event is still online and can be dipped into for those interested in finding out more.

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By Ian Murray MP, Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment

Improving trade will be vitally important to growing the UK in the coming decade. Indeed, boosting exports must be a national mission. The current Government has also recognised that and have set an ambitious target to increase exports to £1 trillion by 2020. However, there are concerns that the pace at which exports are expanding isn’t fast enough.

The headline news from the Office for National Statistics is that the monthly trade deficit in February narrowed, down to £2.1bn from the £2.2bn in January. The value of goods exports was the lowest since October 2010, while the goods deficit excluding oil and items such as precious stones and aircraft – widened from £8bn to £8.5bn.

For these statistics to improve, Labour believe that Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses will be crucial to driving our exports and we are looking at ways we can support them to do that.

Ensuring that firms have access to the finance they need to export is a crucial. That is why the Government’s two flagship export schemes – the £5bn Export Refinancing Scheme and the £1.5bn Direct Lending Scheme – need to start lending and I would encourage ministers to look urgently at the performance of these schemes.

The UK needs to get more businesses exporting to boost middle-income jobs and grow our way out of the cost-of-living crisis and so we can ensure Britain can compete in growing global markets. We have fantastic, innovative businesses, and many important advantages on which to build up our exports. We have a strong British brand, our language, our legal system, and even our time-zone work in our favour. We should be drawing on the rich cultural tapestry of Britain, building on the links with our Disapora communities to strengthen trade links with emerging markets, and building city-to-city links as Chuka Umunna the Shadow Business Secretary outlined last week. To grasp the opportunities and exploit our full potential needs a Government that is prepared to act and prepared to support.

If this does not happen we will not only miss being ahead of the game and fail to grasp the opportunities with regard to exports to the BRIC economies, the ship will sail on the new wave of fast growing economies – the Next Eleven, including the recently much publicised MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) countries.  Ministers must do much more than offer warm words.

As April’s Western Union International Trade Monitor has shown, only 9% of SMEs have customers in China compared to 15% a year ago, whilst only 6% sell to India (vs. 14% in Q1 2013). Indeed, the percentage of SMEs planning to expand into emerging markets fell from 36% in Q4 2013 to 28%. That’s not good enough. These are exactly the markets that UK businesses should be breaking into, but they can only do this with the support of an active government which utilises its export guarantees, a future Labour Government would be as active as possible.

The next Labour government will make it a central mission to boost exports, innovation and investment as part of Agenda 2030, which is our plan for better-balanced, sustainable growth. This means engaging with our European partners using our membership of the EU to reform it and to help us as we look to boost our exports in new markets overseas and help more small firms export. The UK mustn’t head for the EU exit door, an approach which would do nothing for jobs and the ability of smaller and medium sized businesses to export.

Our Small Business Taskforce has made a number of recommendations to Labour which we are examining. These include creating export hubs in major world cities to give UK firms a foothold; export “rainmakers” who can help small businesses identify and approach potential customers; and a suite of export finance products comparable to those offered by the US Small Business Administration.

As a former small business owner, I know the importance of having a government which supports business and steps up not steps away. We have businesses across the country that have huge ambition. It needs to be matched with a government prepared to act.