Curtailing BEPS through Enforcing Corporate Transparency: The Challenges of Implementing Country-by-Country Reporting in Developing Countries and the Case for Making Public Country-by-Country Reporting Mandatory

Ensuring corporate transparency is essential in a globalized economy to prevent tax base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS). This article explains several corporate transparency initiatives by international bodies that are currently spearheaded by the OECD. Under Action 13 of its BEPS Project, the OECD recommended that multinational enterprises must comply with a globalized three-tier documentation structure, which includes country-by-country (CbC) reporting. At the domestic level, countries that are part of the OECD Inclusive Framework are expected to implement certain provisions to enable CbC reporting and to undergo a Peer Review of the same by the end of 2020. This article addresses three related matters that relevant to ensure the effectiveness of CbC reporting from a developing country perspective. First, the article recognizes that although the OECD has issued reports and guidelines on CbC reporting, the capacity constraints of developing countries often make it difficult for them to engage constructively with those reports. This article provides a one-stop synopsis of what CbC reporting entails and the procedures relating to its implementation. This synopsis will be considered instrumental for policy makers and tax administrations in developing countries. Second, the article discusses some challenges that developing countries face in complying with the implementation requirements of CbC reporting. The article provides recommendations as to how those challenges can be addressed. Third, the article postulates that, even if those challenges are addressed, a policy concern is that the OECD’s restricted approach to CbC reporting (which only permits exchange of the reports between tax authorities) impacts the ability of developing countries to access CbC reports. The paper advances the fact that CbC reporting is not a new phenomenon. The United Nations (UN) was the first to propose policy initiatives on CbC reporting in the 1970s, to be public in nature as the most effective way to ensure corporate transparency. The UN’s policy initiatives protected the interests of developing countries by safeguarding their tax bases. However, the 1970 proposals were not supported by developed countries. This article reviews the extent to which the OECD has taken on the UN’s proposals and argues that any departures from those proposals will negatively impact developing countries’ ability to benefit from CbC reporting. The article recommends that the OECD adopt the UN’s proposal by making public CbC reporting mandatory, otherwise competing interest may hamper the effectiveness of the OECD’s initiative.