Swiss move closer to leaving tax-haven list

Switzerland has initialed a double-taxation treaty with Finland, the final agreement needed for the Swiss to be removed from a "grey list" of uncooperative tax havens.

This content was published on July 23, 2009 - 15:56

The finance ministry said the accord, which will likely be signed in three to five months, meets standards set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

It is designed, in part, to open avenues for administrative assistance when foreign authorities need to access account data held in Swiss banks to conduct domestic tax investigations.

G20 states accused Switzerland, along with Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, and Chile, of lacking financial transparency in international tax matters and placed those countries on a grey list. That was one step up from a black list, which would have burdened companies doing business in Switzerland with onerous audits and other competitive disadvantages.

In March 2009 Swiss authorities agreed to ease the country's longstanding banking secrecy laws in an effort to be taken off the list.

However, no accords have actually been signed, a requirement that must be met before Switzerland can be officially cleared. At least one treaty will go to a nationwide vote before being put into force.

Other countries with which Switzerland has initialed new treaties include Britain, France, Japan and the United States.

While the Swiss Business Federation (economiesuisse) and the Swiss Bankers Association applauded the news, the EU's ambassador to Bern, Michael Reiterer of Austria, was cautious.

He said that it was not the number of accords that were concluded that counted but their contents, particularly Article 26 of the OECD's Model Tax Convention.

This provides a widely accepted legal basis for bilateral exchange of information for tax purposes.

Reaction from the OECD itself was positive. "We are very pleased with the progress Switzerland has made, especially if you consider the commitment [to increase tax cooperation] was only made in March," Jeffrey Owens, head of the OECD's Centre for Tax Policy and Administration said.

"It is clear that Switzerland is taking this commitment very seriously." and agencies

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