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US drops demand for ‘safe harbour’ in global tax talks

US treasury secretary Janet Yellen told G20 officials that Washington had dropped the Trump administration’s proposal to let some companies opt out of new global digital tax rules, US and European officials said on Friday, raising hopes for an agreement by summer.

“Secretary Yellen announced that we will engage robustly to address both Pillars of the OECD project, and that the United States is no longer advocating for ‘safe harbour’ implementation of Pillar 1,” a US Treasury official said.

Already challenging multilateral talks to reform global taxation under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stalled after former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted on the contentious measure in late 2019.

Tax experts and finance officials around the world had warned that the US proposal could have allowed big US companies like Amazon, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook to opt out of whatever was agreed internationally.

Yellen’s statement to G20 finance ministers and central bankers was widely welcomed by European officials.

German finance minister Olaf Scholz described the US move as a major breakthrough that could pave the way for a broader deal. “My US colleague Janet Yellen told G20 finance ministers today that the United States would participate, and that the new regulations for fair international taxation should be binding for all companies,” he said in a statement after the meeting.

He said Yellen told the G20 officials that Washington also planned to reform US minimum tax regulations in line with an OECD proposal for a global effective minimum tax. “This is a giant step forward on our way to an agreement among the participating countries by the summer,” Scholz said.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire echoed his praise, saying an agreement on the overhaul of cross-border corporate tax rules was now within reach by a summer deadline.