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José Antonio Ocampo
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This week, Project Syndicate catches up with José Antonio Ocampo, a professor at Columbia University, a board member of Colombia’s central bank, and Chair of the UN’s Committee for Development Policy.

Project Syndicate: You’ve praised the OECD’s framework for addressing base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), including its most recent initiative, which aims to create a corporate tax system that is “fit for the digital economy.” But you’ve also made clear that the BEPS framework isn’t anywhere near enough. What do you think of the recent OECD proposal for taxing the digital economy? In lieu of unitary taxation of multinationals – the ultimate goal – which changes are most urgently needed?

José Antonio Ocampo: My major argument – backed by the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), which I chair – is that multinationals should be taxed as single firms, based on their worldwide operations. Under a system of formulary or fractional apportionment, the firm’s overall (or unitary) taxable profits would be divided among the jurisdictions in which it operates, based on objective criteria (such as sales, employment, and digital users), with each jurisdiction then applying its own tax rate. Some federal countries, including the United States, already employ such an approach.

The recent OECD proposal includes, for the first time, a fractional apportionment scheme. It also recognizes the need for companies to pay taxes not only in jurisdictions where they have a physical permanent establishment, but anywhere where they have “sustained and significant involvement.” That presence would be defined, most simply, by a revenue threshold (adapted to the market’s size).

Ocampo recommends

We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Ocampo's picks:

  • The Art of Economic Catch-Up

    The Art of Economic Catch-Up

    One of Korea’s top economists offers a brilliant analysis of the “detours” that low- and middle-income countries can take to accelerate growth, combining economic theory with his own deep knowledge of East Asia’s development, including the performance of highly successful firms.

  • A World in Disarray

    A World in Disarray

    A PS contributor and the president of the Council of Foreign Relations examines how the post-World War II international order has broken down, delivering a particularly rich analysis of the major changes and challenges generated by US foreign policy.

  • Decidí contarlo

    Decidí contarlo

    The personal memoir of one of Colombia’s most important economists, who recently passed away, this book reflects Perry’s deep knowledge of major episodes in Colombia’s economic history since the 1960s – many of which he participated in. It’s an invaluable read for anyone interested in Colombian economics and politics.

From the PS Archive

From 2018
Ocampo explained why gradualism is no longer an option in the fight against global warming. Read the commentary.

From 2015
Ocampo made the case for increasing the use of SDRs and ending the US dollar’s dominant role in the global monetary system. Read the commentary.

Around the web

Ocampo, Martin Guzman, and Joseph Stiglitz argued that there are theoretical foundations for policies that guarantee competitive and stable real exchange rates. Read the policy paper.

In a 2014 interview, Ocampo described the damage that tax havens cause – and how to shut them down. Read the transcript.

In a 2016 speech, Ocampo identified opportunities for countries and businesses engaging with the developing world. Watch the video.