(Nov. 17, 2009) On October 27, 2009, Australia and the Cook Islands signed a comprehensive tax information exchange agreement in Rarotonga. The agreement provides for the exchange of information on request in both criminal and civil tax matters. The two countries also signed an Additional Benefits Agreement that will result in greater technical assistance being provided by the Australian Tax Office to the Cook Islands tax authorities. (Press Release, Senator Nick Sherry, Australia and Cook Islands Lead the Way in Ending Pacific Tax Secrecy (Oct. 27, 2009), available at http://ministers.treasury.gov.au/DisplayDocs.aspx?doc=pressreleases/2009
The agreements are part of international efforts to deal with the issue of tax havens, which was highlighted at the G-20 meeting in London in April this year. In particular, the G-20 agreed to a list of countermeasures that will be imposed on countries that do not conform to the transparency and information exchange standards reflected in the U.N. Model Tax Convention. (G-20, Declaration on Strengthening the Financial System – London, 2 April 2009, at 4-5 (Apr. 2, 2009), available at http://www.g20.org/Documents/Fin_Deps_Fin_Reg_Annex_020409_-_1615_final.
Australia's Assistant Treasurer, Senator Nick Sherry, said: “[t]oday's agreement signings with Cook Islands will send a very clear message to all of our Pacific regional neighbors that the international response to tax haven behavior has shifted beyond recognition and all responsible jurisdictions need to step up to the challenge.” (Sherry, supra.)
The agreement with the Cook Islands is the ninth tax information exchange agreement that Australia has signed in recent months. (Id.) It is seeking agreements with a number of other countries, including Vanuatu, which has often been identified as a tax haven. (Australia, Cook Island [sic] Sign Tax Sharing Agreement, ABC NEWS, Nov. 2, 2009, available at http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2009/s2731099.htm.)
The Cook Islands has also signed tax information exchange agreements with the Netherlands and New Zealand and has made progress on agreements with other countries. (Press Release, Government of the Cook Islands, Tax Information Exchange with Australia, Cook Is. Signed Off (Oct. 27, 2009), available at http://pacific.scoop.co.nz/2009/10/signing-of-tax-information-exchange-w
ith-australia/;Press Release, Hon. Peter Dunne, Cook Islands Tax Info Agreement Big Step Forward (July 10, 2009), available at http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/dunne+cook+islands+tax+info+agreement