Dialogue on Tax and SDGs - Columbia University

Opening speech by Permanent Representative Ambassador Merete Fjeld Brattested at the conference Dialogue on Tax and SDGs

It is a great pleasure and privilege to participate at the opening of this important and timely conference. Norway appreciates the excellent cooperation with UNDP, Columbia University and Finland on the Tax for SDGs programme in general, and this event in particular. A special thank you to Columbia University for hosting us.

The conference is particularly timely, as the world is reeling from a series of overlapping and cascading crises that are disproportionately affecting developing countries. Our ambition to finance development is under pressure, and the SDGs are slipping beyond our reach, with only 15% considered being on track as of this moment.

In its most recent report, the UN’s Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development warns that the financing divide between rich and poor countries is turning into a lasting development divide, and possibly a lost decade for development.  We are facing a crisis of inequality.

Tax revenues are the cornerstone of every country’s long-term social progress. Tax revenues collected and spent sustainably is an investment for decades, and even generations to come. Progressive taxation and universal access to social services are perhaps our most important tools to reduce inequality.

However, we will not get there if we don’t simultaneously stop the leaks that are siphoning resources away from sustainable development.

A financial system which rewards tax evasion, is not, and can never be sustainable.

Tax evasion neither respects borders nor law enforcement, and has a detrimental effect on institutions, resource mobilisation and governance. Ultimately it threatens the very core of our democracies, and the most important value; trust.

Therefore, the international community must do more to prevent and combat tax evasion, corruption and illicit finance in all its forms.

The need for international cooperation is greater than ever. It is urgent that we get it right on taxation and economic transparency. And we have made progress.

The OECDs/G20s Two Pillar solution represents a fundamental shift away from zero-tax and is a historic development for international tax-policies and cooperation. Similarly, there have been important milestones on information exchange, base erosion and profit shifting.

The United Nations’ tax related work has also made significant progress under the financing for development umbrella. Not least through technical assistance and capacity building in tax administration in a number of developing economies. By being the most representative multilateral forum with a strong focus on sustainable development, the UN is an important body to strengthen international cooperation on tax. Both in order to ensure inclusiveness and to address the needs and interests of developing economies on this matter. This issue is now subject to ongoing negotiations in the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly. Member States are negotiating a draft resolution, including concrete measures to enhance inclusivity and effectiveness of tax cooperation at a global scale.

 Studying the program for the conference, I see an impressive list of speakers and participants that include policymakers, government officials, global advocacy groups and institutional stakeholders. The unique set of experiences and lessons you all bring to the table will undoubtedly make for interesting discussion.

Only by widening the dialog can we mobilize for the action needed. I look forward to working with all of you to achieve our common goal.

With that, I wish you a fruitful event with great discussions.

Thank you.