Beyond Borders: International Tax into 2020, our inaugural conference held last week in Cyprus, came and went like a six-month term as president of the Council of the European Union.
Close to one hundred attendees gathered at Amathus Beach Hotel for three days of heated discussions, learning and networking opportunities, teambuilding exercises (Peggy Babcock, anyone?), and plenty of sassy tax-ittude.
It will take us a few weeks to pour through all the material we’ve gathered and share it with you. So, for now, we’ve decided to put together a (somewhat humorous) “Best Of” post on what transpired during our eventful three-day gig.
Day One: Cocktails by the Mediterranean Sea
We kicked things off with a welcome cocktail reception, which had been scheduled for an hour but—in true Cyprus style—ran for about three. Nothing like wine, beer and spirits to shake off the nerves, loosen your tongue and help you jump straight into the networking pool.
As we greeted our attendees, keynote speakers and panelists and they all started mingling, it quickly became apparent that the conference had taken off on the right foot.
The vibes emanating from the lobby bar were jovial and conducive to in-depth industry discussions and plenty of banter.
Day Two: A Very Public vs. Private Battle!
Now we get into the meat of the matter.
We’re guessing everyone present will tell you that Day One’s main highlight was the passionate and divergent discussion following Tax Justice Network’s Alex Cobham’s keynote speech pushing for greater transparency and the establishment of public registers of beneficial ownership.
Perspectives from across the political and economic spectrum duked it out on the floor, with a handful of attendees clamoring that the general public should not have access to beneficial ownership data as it’s “none of their business.”
Some bolder audience members even likened the establishment of public registers to governmental regulations under socialist and communist regimes.
The Tax Justice Network’s CEO, however, stood his ground, backing the position that greater transparency actually promotes tax compliance and pushes corporations to behave better.
We must admit that this was riveting stuff!
Besides that, we had highly informative panel discussions on how to tax and regulate cryptocurrencies, an overview of FATCA and CRS and all of these regulations’ complications, and a nightcap on the many tax risks of doing business in the developing world, specifically Africa.
The Taxlinked team’s personal highlight was Todd Buell, senior correspondent for Law360 & MLex and superhuman panel moderator, impersonating President Donald Trump while relaying information on what might be “the best tax ever” being set up in the United States.
Day Three: Eroding Lawyer-Client Privileges?
Our final day started off in a very professorial tone with discussions on double tax treaties, BEPS in the developing world, tax and technology and IP boxes, among others.
For instance, Jeremy Cape, Partner with Squire Patton Boggs in the UK, walked us through the different Brexit scenarios, concluding that this process presents “an opportunity for political parties for more radical visions of what tax policy can look like.”
Albeit, the event ended just how we like it—with a bang.
Our final two panels brought to the floor a reprise of the previous day’s battle with a series of fiery arguments on aggressive tax planning, tax residency and the EU’s DAC6, which forces financial intermediaries to report “potentially aggressive cross-border tax-planning arrangements” to their jurisdiction’s tax authorities.
John Richardson, a Canadian lawyer who provides advice and assistance for American citizens and Green Card holders who do not reside in the United States, led the charge against DAC 6.
Richardson argued that this prohibitive rule infringes upon lawyer-client privileges and said it would make more sense to include it as part of a professional code of conduct instead of a binding regulation.
Furthermore, several participants voiced their apprehension towards the use of the word “aggressive” as a descriptor for tax planning, arguing that as long as tax planning doesn’t contravene any rules it should never be considered aggressive in nature.
However, Ronen Palan, Professor of International Politics at City University London, jumped into the fray arguing that the European Union has actively used the word “aggressive” in describing tax planning, so there are clear parameters as to what constitutes this in practice.
Day Four: In Vino Veritas
A few of us—those still standing after the two-days of grueling discussions and late-night networking shindigs—rose bright and early to explore two leading Cypriot wineries and partake in yet another (yawn) meze lunch.
Our stops included Vlassides Winery, where one of Cyprus’ most talented winemakers, UC-Davis-trained Sophocles Vlassides walked us through the winemaking process and led us in a tasting of four of the winery’s main bottles.
Then came a quick stop at Gerolemo Winery, where we sampled plenty of local delicacies made with olives and carob matched with their award-winning wines, including a lovely Maratheftiko rosé that at 14.5% alcohol will quickly knock the wind out of you.
So, will you join us next year?