OECD chief upbeat on tax haven transparency progress

BERLIN Tue Jun 23, 2009 6:25am EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - OECD chief Angel Gurria expects to report progress is being made by states singled out as needing to improve their tax cooperation standards, he said before a meeting on the issue on Tuesday.

A statement to be released after the meeting will state whether countries on the "grey list" drawn up by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have made progress since last year on signing bilateral tax treaties and combating bank secrecy.

"I think (it will be) a very positive report that we'll send to the ministers (at the meeting)," Gurria told reporters as he arrived for the talks in Berlin, jointly hosted by the German and French governments.

Switzerland said on Monday it had agreed to revise its double taxation agreement with Germany, easing diplomatic tensions between the countries over Swiss bank secrecy.

Switzerland is one of numerous countries the Paris-based OECD put on a "grey list" of uncooperative tax havens. Countries from the G20 group are threatening those unwilling to cooperate with sanctions.

The Swiss reached an agreement over a double taxation treaty with the United States last week in what was seen as a key step toward removal from the list.

In another development affecting Switzerland, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that the U.S. Justice Department may drop a legal case aimed at forcing Swiss bank UBS AG to reveal the names of 52,000 wealthy American clients suspected of offshore tax evasion.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck has drawn the ire of Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and others for publicly chastising them for their banking policies.

Steinbrueck was likened to a Nazi by one Swiss parliamentarian after he called for a "carrot and stick" approach with tax havens like Switzerland and likened the country to "Indians" running scared from the cavalry.

Since then he has adopted a softer tone. Switzerland released a statement on the agreement to revise its double taxation agreement with Germany after Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz dined with Steinbrueck.

Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard said it was important for Switzerland and Germany to have cordial relations.

"We know how important for one another we are," she told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

"A row is simply not in the interests of the two economies because a lot of jobs are at stake. So we should not strain the traditionally friendly relationship," she added.

(Reporting by Brian Rohan, writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Andy Bruce)

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