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Today in Bern, the FATCA agreement was signed by State Secretary Michael Ambühl and the US ambassador Donald S. Beyer. During its meeting on 13 February 2013, the Federal Council had already given the Federal Department of Finance (FDF) the go-ahead for it to be signed. Initialled on 3 December 2012, the agreement provides for simplifications in implementing the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The text of the agreement will also be published now that it has been signed. It has to be submitted to parliament for approval and is subject to an optional referendum.
With the enactment of FATCA, the United States wishes to ensure that all income earned worldwide by US taxpayers on accounts held abroad can be taxed by the United States. FATCA essentially requires foreign financial institutions to conclude a contract with the US tax authorities (Internal Revenue Service, IRS) that imposes reporting requirements on them regarding identified US accounts. In the case of grave errors being committed during implementation, the IRS may submit requests for information to the financial institutions concerned, about which it has to inform the Swiss authorities. On-site inspections by the IRS at the financial institutions concerned are not permitted.
The FATCA agreement negotiated with Switzerland allows Swiss financial institutions to exchange information with the IRS and provides for simplifications in implementing FATCA. The Final Regulations published by the US Treasury and the IRS on 17 January 2013 are applicable to Swiss financial institutions to the extent that the agreement and its annexes do not expressly make provision for derogations from the rules.
The agreement that has now been signed provides for simplifications for large sections of the Swiss financial industry:
The agreement ensures that the accounts held by US persons with Swiss financial institutions are disclosed to the US tax authorities either with the consent of the account holder or by means of group requests within the scope of administrative assistance. Information will not be transferred automatically in the absence of consent, and instead will be exchanged only on the basis of the administrative assistance clause in the double taxation agreement.
As the United States will phase in FATCA from 1 January 2014, Swiss financial institutions will be forced to implement FATCA from this date, irrespective of an agreement between Switzerland and the United States, if they do not want to be excluded from the US capital market. Without an agreement, however, they could not benefit from simplified implementation and would thus be at a disadvantage relative to competitors in other financial centres. It is important therefore that the agreement can come into force on 1 January 2014.
Owing to the urgency and importance of the matter, the Federal Council has decided to conduct an abbreviated consultation on the FATCA agreement as well as on the corresponding implementing act. Interested parties have four weeks to submit their views.
In order to enable swift handling of the approval process, the Federal Council has in addition announced submission of the FATCA dispatch to the parliamentary offices.