Panama Standing Firm on Tax Information Exchange and Banking Secrecy

In these changing political times, for those seeking secure locations for offshore protection of assets, Panama remains a top choice.

In a letter to the OECD after the London G-20 meeting at which Panama arbitrarily, (along with Switzerland and a number of other respected offshore financial centers), was placed on a “less than black” list (the Grey List), President Martin Torrijos’ Minister of Commerce and Industry, made clear that his government would only go so far in exchanging tax information.

She condemned the G-20 and the OECD for “…discriminatorily affecting the good name and competitiveness of the international [financial] services offered by the Republic of Panama and that are the backbone of our economy.”

The minister laid down these pre-conditions under which Panama would exchange tax information:

“1) The privacy of persons will continue to be protected and guaranteed against undue interference.

2) There shall be no automatic exchange of information.

3) There shall be no undue triangulation of information furnished among nations.

4) Any exchange of information shall be done based on individual requests supported by a specific and justified principle or law.

5) There shall be a reasonable transitional period with respect to any measure that must be implemented and that has an impact in the international services platform offered by the Republic of Panama, it being understood that the application of any measure shall occur at the same time as similar measures applied in each and every one of the states that are members or not of the OECD and that Panama considers to be competitors in the provision of international services.”

Note the emphasis in the last pre-condition above. Panama will only concede to any limited measure at the same time as similar measures have been applied to all other competitors in the provision of international services. That’s a long list and we doubt that every other competitor will come into conformity. China in the form of Hong Kong and Macau just for starters has signaled no such intentions.

Some commentators have inferred that the pending free trade agreement between Panama and the U.S., which has been pending congressional approval for some time, will be used to pressure Panama into caving in. What is lost in the small print is the fact that this agreement is far more beneficial to the U.S. side then the Panamanian.

Panama exported $377 million to the United States last year and 96% of the goods from Panama already enter the U.S. duty free under existing trade preferences. By contrast, Panama currently applies tariffs ranging from 8% to 15% on most manufactured goods, with rates in the high double and even triple digits for U.S. agricultural products.

Panama also bans the import of re-manufactured goods. That’s a potentially lucrative market for U.S. industrial and consumer exports, including cell phones, computers and earthmoving equipment.

We have read many uninformed, misleading and self-serving articles even on supposedly well informed asset protection websites predicting the demise of Panama as an offshore financial center. We quote from one:

“Since the G20 meeting the Panama company has been under quite a bit of fire from the US Government and Congress. Currently the US and Panama have a reciprocal free trade agreement between the two and the US government wants to do away with this agreement until Panama either hands over information on Americans in the jurisdiction which means doing away with their banking privacy laws or taking drastic measures to change legislation which makes Panama a fiscal paradise. The US has always had a strong hold in Panama even after their retreat and the handover of the Panama canal. Many Americans who currently own or are the beneficial owners of a Panama Company have been looking for safe alternatives before the house of cards begins to fall down around them”.

Apart from the erroneous fact that the free trade agreement has yet to be ratified and the fact that the U.S. has not had a strong hand in Panama since it removed its forces 10 years ago and has been denied even the use of one of its former bases just for drug interdiction and intelligence purposes, we would say just the opposite is the truth.

Also, Americans with Panama companies are not looking for other alternatives fearing everything is about to come tumbling down. Au contraire…. they are looking to Panama as one of the last few bastions with clout and independence to continue their long standing policies.

The smaller nations are inevitably more vulnerable and with much smaller economies open to bribery. Those other alternative jurisdictions, many of which we offer such as Belize, Nevis and the Seychelles, will have had to go the way of the OECD wishes first before Panama will even consider implementing any changes. Therefore if Panama goes it will be because every other offshore financial center has already agreed to do so. We consider that eventuality highly unlikely based on the current scenarios before us.

Use the following link to find out more information about why to bank offshore in Panama, see the Panama Tax Haven article:

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