GENEVA: Switzerland, which has been working to end its years-long practice of banking secrecy, said Thursday it aimed to dramatically increase the number of countries it cooperates with towards international fiscal transparency.
The Swiss government said in a statement that it wanted to extend the automatic exchange of information (AEOI) on bank accounts to 21 more countries, including Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel and South Africa.
Such automatic information exchanges are aimed at bringing an end to Switzerland’s long-cherish banking secrecy practices and help prevent foreigners from stashing undeclared income in Swiss banks.
The government said consultations on the move would be held through mid-March, and that it expected the accords to enter into force by January 1, 2018 and for information exchange to begin a year later.
“The introduction of the AEOI (automatic exchange of information) with these countries confirms Switzerland’s international commitment to implementing the AEOI standard,” the government said.
“This will contribute to strengthening the competitiveness, the credibility and integrity of Switzerland’s financial centre,” it said.
Faced with international pressure, Switzerland has been working hard to phase out its banking secrecy laws, which long made the country’s banks a magnet for wealthy foreigners wishing to hide their assets from the taxman back home.
The Alpine nation already has automatic information exchange agreements with 38 other countries, including with all the EU states, Gibraltar and Australia, where such exchanges are set to become the norm next year.
The Swiss parliament is meanwhile expected to give the green light before the end of the year to similar accords with Iceland, Norway, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the British crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
The AEOI system is a global standard put in place by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and is aimed at reducing the possibility of tax evasion.
Under the system, all banks must at the end of each year transmit to their national tax authorities client information, including on account holdings, dividend interest earnings and revenues from the sale of shares and certain types of insurance contracts.
For foreign residents, the information is then passed on to the tax authorities in the clients’ home countries.
The Swiss government’s plans to expand the number of countries it cooperates with were hailed by the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), which represents all banks in the country.
“It is important that the AEOI norms are as practical and as fair as possible,” SBA chief Claude-Alain Margelisch told journalists in Geneva.