Friday, August 24, 2012

Corporate Tax Transparency: U.S. Update

A step forward in the global tax transparency effort: the U.S. SEC has finally approved rules for implementing the extractive industries transparency provisions of Dodd Frank s. 1504.  The rules were due, by statute, more than a year ago.  Industry lobbying against their issuance was fierce but, perhaps spurred by Oxfam's lawsuit compelling the SEC to stop its foot-dragging, the agency has finally produced.  Here is the announcement from the SEC.  A number of stories call this a big day for transparency and a big step by the US, from the New York TimesGlobal Witness, the Financial Integrity Task Force, the Brookings Institute.

Of course, as Brookings notes, the devil will be in the details, a.k.a., the implementation.  From their report:

Tomorrow those details will be in the hands of the SEC and will determine whether ‘effective transparency’ is attained or continues to remain elusive. Namely the SEC will determine whether the information that needs to be disclosed by companies is sufficiently detailed, relevant and accessible, enabling effective monitoring and analysis by civil society, investors and government reformists.
Given the content of the 2-year-old Dodd-Frank legislation, the SEC has no choice but to mandate disclosure. However, effective disclosure is by no means guaranteed as the SEC could issue weak rules, rendering disclosure ineffective. Thanks to Dodd-Frank legislation mandating transparency, the main danger is no longer wholesale ‘transparency evasion’ by many companies, but the more nuanced risk of enabling ‘transparency elusion’ (or ‘transparency avoidance’) by companies that wish to skirt detailed disclosure, thereby masking possible misdeeds.
Similarly, from the NYT:
Oil experts said it was difficult to know how onerous the payment disclosure rule would be since it was not yet known how the S.E.C. would define some of the requirements. Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said in a research note that the ruling could “impose very real competitive challenges for U.S. companies,” particularly if “compliance leads to disclosure of previously secret terms of concessions, leases and production-sharing agreements.”
More on this to come.

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