Cornell Studies in Money

In Imposing Standards: The North-South Dimension to Global Tax Politics, ICTD Research Fellow Martin Hearson shifts the focus of political rhetoric regarding international tax rules from tax havens and the Global North to the damaging impact of this regime on the Global South.

Even when not exploited by tax dodgers, international tax standards place severe limits on the ability of developing countries to tax businesses, denying the Global South access to much-needed revenue. The international rules that allow tax avoidance by multinational corporations have dominated political debate about international tax in the US and Europe, especially since the global financial crisis of 2007–8.

Hearson asks how developing countries willingly gave up their right to tax foreign companies, charting their assimilation into an OECD-led regime from the days of early independence to the present day. Based on interviews with treaty negotiators, policymakers and lobbyists, as well as observation at intergovernmental meetings, archival research, and field work in Africa and Asia, Imposing Standards shows that capacity constraints and imperfect negotiation strategies in developing countries were exploited by capital-exporting states, shielding multinationals from taxation and depriving nations in the Global South of revenue they both need and deserve.

Thanks to generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the e-book editions of this book are available as Open Access volumes from Cornell Open and other repositories.


“Imposing Standards is excellent: a must-read that establishes why taxes and the international institutions we’ve built to coordinate them are key to the persistence of economic inequality among countries.”

– Allison Christians, McGill University

“This eye-opening book is a must read for international tax policy makers, politicians, treaty negotiators, tax administrations, academics, and officials in other government departments that set investment policies relevant to tax treaties.”

– Annet Wanyana Oguttu, Department of Taxation, University of Pretoria

“If rich countries increasingly worry about raising tax in a globalized world economy, what about poor countries? Martin Hearson’s brilliant book examines how it is not so much the power of capital, but the power of ideas propagated by experts that leads the governments of developing states to needlessly suffice desperately needed tax revenue.”

– Jason Sharman, University of Cambridge

“Martin Hearson’s debut is masterful. Imposing Standards rests on extensive and prolonged fieldwork, providing an analysis that could only be produced by an author who has developed unrivalled expertise through an engagement with his topic over many years.”

– Duncan Wigan, Copenhagen Business School, co-editor Global Wealth Chains

“The remarkably rigorous analysis in this book provides powerful arguments for low-income countries to critically reexamine the multitude of bilateral tax treaties with advanced economies. These one-sided vestiges of the colonial era carry heavy costs for low-income countries in terms of lost tax revenue; their ability to attract investment remains a mirage. A must read for policy makers and researchers.”

– Léonce Ndikumana, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


1. The Problem with Tax Treaties
2. A History of Lower-income Countries in (and out of) Global Tax Governance
3. The Competition Discourse and North-South Relations
4. The International Tax Community and the Politics of Expertise
5. The United Kingdom
6. Zambia
7. Vietnam and Cambodia
8. Historical Legacies in a Rapidly Changing World


Martin Hearson

Martin Hearson is a Research Fellow at IDS, co-Research Director of the ICTD and the International Tax programme lead. His research focuses on the politics of international business taxation, and in particular the relationship between developed and developing countries. Before joining ICTD, Martin was a fellow in international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, teaching courses on political economy and global financial governance.
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