What a different just four months makes.
It was only in May, ahead of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, that UK Premier David Cameron was urging all British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies to ‘get our own house in order’ over tax transparency.
Then last week, having returned from another summit of world leaders, this time at the G20 in Russia, Cameron told MPs that he did not think it fair any longer to refer to any of these offshore centres as tax havens.
His view, however, is not one shared by France which earlier this month placed Jersey, British Virgin Islands and Bermuda on its list of unco-operative states for tax purposes.
It’s all a far cry from the height of the global financial crisis in 2008 when Labour’s little lamented Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was a need to look again at the relationship between the Isle of Man and Britain – echoing the words of his Chancellor Alistair Darling who described us as ‘a tax haven sitting in the Irish Sea’.
In truth, as Manx government ministers have been keen to point out, the Isle of Man has been leading the field for 15 years when it comes to sharing tax information with other countries.
It’s a policy that ensured we avoided blacklisting by the OECD and has finally got us into the good books of UK Treasury.
It could be argued that we’ve moved too fast, too soon.
Treasury Minister Eddie Teare disagrees: ‘Far from it. We have always been pragmatic. You can’t just say “you can’t do that to us”. We have engaged with the international community. We’ve got brownie points for doing that. The UK government and international organisations realise that we’ve been realistic and reasonable.’
The Manx government signed its first Tax Information Exchange Agreement in 2002 and we now have some 30 such agreements, in force or awaiting ratification, with countries including Argentina, China, India and Switzerland, together with about a dozen double taxation agreements.
Two more TIEAS will be signed this week, with Italy and sub-Saharan Lesotho, the latter the second agreement signed with an African country (the first being Botswana). This is significant as critics claim tax havens are used to siphon money off developing countries.
It was the number of such agreements that enabled the island to be placed in 2009 on the OECD’s white list of co-operative financial jurisdictions.
That same year, at the OECD Forum in Paris, Allan Bell, then Treasury Minister, announced we were to go much further and introduce a major new policy of automatic exchange of tax information with the EU as from July 1, 2011 - one of the first small jurisdictions to do so.
Last year the Manx government announced it was negotiating with the US to implement its Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act and was committed to become the first nation to sign a FATCA-style deal with the UK.
Mr Teare said: ‘I’m on standby to sign both - hopefully within the next month.’
Under these FATCA arrangements, which is likely to become a global standard, automatic exchange will cover not just personal bank accounts as before but details of all account holders, including those whose identities might otherwise be hidden by trusts or companies.
The government last month confirmed its intention to join a multilateral convention, enabling tax information exchange to be extended to developing countries.
An action plan is also being produced on company secrecy, which is likely to be the new frontline in the international debate on tax transparency.
The UK government advocates the setting up of a central public register of beneficial ownership.
But Mr Teare said our legislation in this area is already ahead of many countries including the UK, with laws in place for 10 years to ensure details of true ownership and control of every company, trust and fund are made available to tax and law enforcement agencies.
He said: ‘A central register is not going to deliver what they expect. It will be out of date whereas our system is constantly updated. Placing people’s personal details on public display could leave some open to terrorism and blackmail. I don’t think that’s right at all.’