Years before more than a hundred media outlets around the world released stories Sunday exposing a massive network of global tax evasion detailed in the so-called Panama Papers, U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for a Bush administration-negotiated free trade agreement that watchdogs warned would only make the situation worse.
Soon after taking office in 2009, Obama and his secretary of state — who is currently the Democratic presidential front-runner — began pushing for the passage of stalled free trade agreements (FTAs) with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that opponents said would make it more difficult to crack down on Panama’s very low income tax rate, banking secrecy laws and history of noncooperation with foreign partners.
Even while Obama championed his commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy, he pursued and eventually signed the Panama agreement in 2011. Upon Congress ratifying the pact, Clinton issued a statement laudingthe agreement, saying it and other deals with Colombia and South Korea “will make it easier for American companies to sell their products.” She added: “The Obama administration is constantly working to deepen our economic engagement throughout the world, and these agreements are an example of that commitment.”
Critics, however, said the pact would make it easier for rich Americans and corporations to set up offshore corporations and bank accounts and avoid paying many taxes altogether.
“A tax haven … has one of three characteristics: It has no income tax or a very low-rate income tax; it has bank secrecy laws; and it has a history of noncooperation with other countries on exchanging information about tax matters,” Rebecca Wilkins, a senior counsel with Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates changes in U.S. tax policy, told the Huffington Post in 2011. “Panama has all three of those. … They’re probably the worst.”
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