January 10, 2014 / 12:26 PM / 7 years ago

German minister wants speedy crackdown on tax avoidance

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany should consider its own measures to crack down on tax avoidance by global firms like Google and Amazon if an international initiative to tackle the problem does not produce results by the autumn, an influential state minister said.

Norbert-Walter Borjans, Finance Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, gestures during a Reuters interview at the NRW federal state parliament in Duesseldorf May 16, 2013. SWISS/DATATHEFT REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Last year leaders of the G20 group of nations asked the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to make recommendations for addressing corporate tax avoidance.

That came after revelations that firms, including Apple and Starbucks, were slashing their tax bills by placing intellectual property with subsidiaries in tax havens, which then charged affiliates in countries like Germany or Britain fat fees for its use.

The Paris-based group is expected to present a progress report on its efforts to G20 finance ministers in April and make a first set of proposals to them in September.

But Norbert Walter-Borjans, finance minister of the big German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said Berlin may have to go it alone if other countries show signs of dragging their feet on implementation.

“We want international rules, that would be the best case scenario, and they must come quickly,” he told Reuters. “But if it becomes clear that there are different interests among the countries and that no agreement is possible, then we will need to think about our own steps.”

For example, minimum taxation rates could be introduced, or limits imposed on how much firms can deduct by paying royalties for intellectual property, he said.

“The autumn is a milestone for me. By then I’d like to see whether these are just empty words or whether real action will follow,” Walter-Borjans said.

Given the complexities of the tax avoidance issue, it is unclear how successful a country like Germany could be in tackling it on its own.

Walter-Borjans, a Social Democrat (SPD) who works for the powerful regional premier of NRW Hannelore Kraft, has made a name for himself by backing the purchase of data on secret Swiss bank accounts from whistleblowers.

He said this process should continue until Switzerland proves it is committed to the automatic exchange of tax records with foreign authorities.

Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Stephen Brown

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