On 11 October 2023, the Africa Group at the United Nations tabled a proposal calling for a comprehensive UN tax convention. Now, over 200 organisations and trade unions, among them RTE, have sent a letter to governments calling for the adoption of the Africa Group’s resolution, and stressing that this issue should be treated as a matter of highest priority and urgency.
To the kind attention of: Ministers of Finance, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Permanent Representatives and Permanent Observers to the United Nations in New York United Nations Secretariat, Agencies and Programmes.Subject: UNGA Second Committee Draft Resolution on Promotion of Inclusive and Effective International Tax Cooperation at the United Nations (A/C.2/77/L.18)
Your Excellencies, Ministers and distinguished representatives of UN Member States,
We, the undersigned civil society organisations and trade unions, strongly support and welcome the United Nations General Assembly Draft Resolution on Promotion of Inclusive and Effective International Tax Cooperation at the UN (A/C.2/78/L.18). We commend the Africa Group for its excellent leadership on this issue, and we find that the draft captures and builds on the spirit of international cooperation that led to the adoption, by consensus, of last year’s landmark Resolution A/RES/77/244 on the same topic. We now call on all governments to maintain and reinforce this spirit by supporting the draft resolution, and work actively to promote its adoption as a matter of highest priority and urgency.
As the negotiations progress in the 2nd Committee of the UN General Assembly, we specifically call on all governments to ensure that the level of ambition and key elements of the resolution are kept intact. In particular, we would like to stress the following elements, which we believe are crucial to maintain:
1. The establishment of a Member State-led, open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee to elaborate a comprehensive UN Tax Convention (paragraph 3).
Such a UN Convention could never entail duplication, because it would be the world’s first truly global agreement on international tax cooperation. Until now, the world has never seen a fully inclusive intergovernmental body where all countries can participate on an equal footing, and this injustice is at the heart of the failure of the international tax system. None of the existing international tax agreements have ever been globally endorsed, and they are all too often biased against the interests and concerns of developing countries. Furthermore, not even OECD countries are currently in agreement as regards the global tax rules and principles. This situation has contributed to large-scale illicit financial flows through international tax loopholes; international tax conflicts; instability and deep inconsistencies between tax laws of different countries. All countries have paid a high price for this failure, but the impacts on developing countries have been particularly hard.
The UN remains the only truly universal body where all countries participate as equals, and the negotiation of a UN Tax Convention entails a unique opportunity to build bridges between governments. We applaud the Africa Group for issuing an invitation to all countries of the world to engage in such a negotiation, and urge all other governments to show a similar spirit of cooperation and support this crucial initiative.
2. Approaching the issue of international tax cooperation as an issue of high priority and urgency – by aiming to finish the UN Tax Convention by June 2025 (paragraph 4).
The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, all-time high public debt service payments and the “cost of living crisis”, the fight to increase domestic resource mobilisation and combat illicit financial flows has never been more vital. In the State of Tax Justice Report 2023, Tax Justice Network has estimated that international tax abuse is costing countries US$480 billion in lost tax income every year1. Faced with the challenges of financing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and combatting the global environmental crises, it is clear that the international community must take urgent action to strengthen international tax cooperation and stop the immense bleeding of public resources.
3. Pursuing a comprehensive UN Tax Convention with a holistic scope and sufficient flexibility and resilience to continuously ensure equitable results as the international tax cooperation landscape evolves.
In line with the draft resolution proposed by the Africa Group, we believe that a UN Tax Convention should comprehensively address key issues in urgent need of intergovernmental agreement, including tax-related illicit financial flows and the taxation of income derived from the provision of cross-border services in an increasingly digitalized and globalized economy (paragraph 6(c)). The Convention should also incorporate other key needs and priorities of countries, and in particular developing countries (paragraph 6(a)), such as progressive taxation.
International tax cooperation cannot be built on guidelines and voluntary frameworks. It requires legally binding agreements between governments, and for over a century, governments have been signing such agreements bilaterally. But in order to establish an inclusive, effective, fair and coherent international framework, it is high time to negotiate a global agreement – in the form of a comprehensive UN Convention. Furthermore, in order to ensure long-term sustainability and flexibility, and with an aim to allowing a stepwise approach to building intergovernmental consensus (paragraph 6(b)), we also believe that the Convention must establish a fair, transparent and fully inclusive tax governance framework that allows for the negotiation of additional legally binding agreements (in the form of protocols) in the future.
4. Establishing clear links between international taxation and other key UN agendas (paragraph 6(b)).
In its draft resolution, the Africa Group has highlighted the importance of linking the issue of international taxation to other key areas, including sustainable development, inequality, the environment, gender, health and intergenerational aspects. We find this to be of utmost importance. For far too long, intergovernmental negotiations on tax have been absent from the UN space, and thus disconnected from the broader UN agenda. This, despite the fact that fair and progressive tax systems, supported by an inclusive and effective global governance system, are vital for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, protection of human rights and the global fight against environmental crises.
5. Ensuring the full and effective participation of civil society in the intergovernmental UN tax process to develop a new UN Tax Convention (paragraph 4).
We strongly welcome the emphasis on the importance of civil society participation, which the Africa Group has included in the draft resolution. Fair, effective and transparent tax systems are a central element of democracy, and vital for ensuring economic, social and environmental justice.
We, the undersigned civil society organisations and trade unions, have a strong engagement on these issues at the national, regional and global levels, and believe that inclusivity and active participation of observers in global negotiations is vital for ensuring fair, effective, legitimate and democratic global governance on tax. We stand ready to make our contributions and bring in-depth knowledge from all regions of the world about the devastating impacts of the failure of international tax cooperation, including the continued bleeding of public resources in the form of illicit financial flows. We also bring concrete and specific proposals for solutions, including for how a future UN Convention on Tax could be designed2.
We remain at your disposal if you would like to receive more information or would like to meet to discuss this issue further.
Civil Society Financing for Development Mechanism (www.csoforffd.org)
1 Tax Justice Network, ‘State of Tax Justice 2023’, 25 July 2023, https://taxjustice.net/reports/the-state-of-tax- justice-2023/
2 Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), ‘Proposal for a United Nations Convention on Tax’, March 2022, https://www.eurodad.org/un_tax_convention