How Mauritius Hopes To Shake Its Reputation As A Tax Haven

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Mauritius plans to launch a trading platform that hedges African currencies against the U.S. dollar — part of a bid to shake its reputation as little more than a tax haven and expand its role as a financial hub for Africa, Reuters reported in GhanaWeb.

The Indian Ocean island is in talks to boost ties with stock exchanges in Johannesburg, Nairobi and India that would encourage cross listing shares and other areas of cooperation, said Financial Services Minister Sudarshan Bhadain in a Reuters interview.

A double taxation avoidance treaty has helped make the island nation the biggest route for foreign investment into India but potential treaty changes are encouraging a shift in focus to Africa.

Some treaty regulations related to the sector could change by the end of 2015, Bhadain said. He has been working with the 138-or-so management firms that handle the roughly 10,000 global business companies registered on the island.

“We see the focus has to change in terms of more tangible, real investments which are taking place in Mauritius,” he said.

Officials see a chance to offer a broader range of financial services in Africa and shake off criticism that Mauritius is little more than a tax haven, Reuters reports.

“I do believe that Mauritius cannot remain a tax-centric jurisdiction,” the minister told Reuters. “Mauritius has to move to the next level which is bringing real investments which are creating jobs in Mauritius … and for us to be the platform for Africa for the right reasons.”

Six of the largest U.S. banks use known tax havens to avoid potential tax bills in the billions of dollars, according to a new study by the the nonprofits U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Citizens for Tax JusticeInternationalBusinessTimes reported.

These banks include Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

Combined, they’ve kept $126 billion in cash or cash equivalents in recognized tax havens like Mauritius, Bermuda and Luxembourg, the report said.

That represents just 6 percent of the $2.1 trillion held offshore by U.S. corporations in the Fortune 500 companies, IBTimes reports. Almost 75 percent of companies on the Fortune 500 list use offshore tax havens.

The problem is that overseas tax havens allow the country’s largest corporations to avoid massive tax obligations that eventually fall onto the taxpaying public, according to the study.

“Every dollar in taxes that corporations avoid by using tax havens must be balanced by higher taxes on individuals, cuts to public investments and public services, or increased federal debt,” the authors wrote.

Mauritius has agreed with the National Stock Exchange of India to create a new currency derivatives platform encouraging cross-listing of Indian firms, helping the island become a route for investment to Africa from India and elsewhere, Reuters reported.

“One of the aspects is for the creation of a new currency derivatives platform, where African currencies can be hedged against the U.S. dollar,” Bhadain said. The launch is expected in 2016.

Mauritius is working with South Africa and Kenya to encourage cross-listings, the minister said. He’s also working with Dubai financial markets to help develop markets in Mauritius.

Mauritius had held talks with firms such as French investment banking firm AXA and U.S.-based Prudential to put managers in Mauritius and hire staff there rather than simply registering operations and having limited presence.

To benefit from the double tax avoidance treaties Mauritius has with African countries, companies must meet a range of requirements including having at least two resident directors and using Mauritius accounts for banking transactions.

Global business companies should show that they are not using Mauritius solely to avoid higher taxes elsewhere, Reuters reported.