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Banking secrecy Cabinet pushes for talks on banking data exchange

Finance Minister Widmer-Schlumpf says access to other financial markets is crucial for Switzerland's banks and insurance companies

(Keystone)

The government has presented plans for negotiations with other countries on the introduction of an automatic exchange of information in tax matters, based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) global standard.

Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the separate negotiations with the European Union, the United States and with other – for the time being unnamed – countries had to be in line with the principle of reciprocity and the information could only be used for tax purposes.

She said agreeing an automatic exchange of tax-relevant data was a pre-requisite for continued access to foreign financial markets.

“We risk being cut off if we are unwilling to cooperate,” she told journalists on Wednesday.

The government hopes the exchange of information with EU member countries could replace the savings tax agreement.

It also seeks to adapt the exchange of information with Washington, applying a model of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) which is based on reciprocity.

Domestic clients

Widmer-Schlumpf noted that the standard would only apply to residents outside Switzerland with a Swiss account and Swiss residents who keep assets in an offshore account.

Dismissing allegations that the government was planning to abolish banking secrecy altogether, including for domestic clients, she said: “The automatic exchange of information will not have a direct impact on domestic bank accounts of residents in Switzerland.”

In a bid to fight against the abolition of banking secrecy rules, a committee, led by a People’s Party parliamentarian, is seeking to enshrine the cherished principle in the Swiss constitution.

The group, supported by members of centre-right parties, is collecting the required signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue.

Timeline

The government is now consulting cantons and parliamentary committees as part of the legislative procedure. It plans to present a formal bill to parliament before the end of the year.

At the beginning of the month, experts urged the government to start or continue bilateral talks with the EU, as well as with individual countries within and outside the EU, to make sure that Swiss banks will keep access to important financial markets abroad.

The OECD for its part has confirmed plans to introduce a new global standard for the automatic exchange of information.

The new rules are to be discussed by the Group of 20 most powerful nations in September ahead of a decision by the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes.

swissinfo.ch

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