Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Bangladesh has introduced new transfer pricing (TP) regulations, effective from July 2014.

Key observations:

  • Definition of: associated enterprise, international transaction and arm’s length methodologies
  • No APAs or safer harbor rules
  • Key documentation requirements include:
    • Business relationships between each member of the MNE group
    • Consolidated financial statements of the MNE group
    • Record of any financial estimates
    • De minims requirements for international transactions less than approx. USD 390,000
    • New statement of international transactions required in addition to the income statement
    • Chartered Accountant’s report
    • 1% of value TP penalties

These rules, similar to Singapore’s recent comments for its proposed update for TP legislation, request broad and complex documentation requirements for the MNE group.  Accordingly, all MNE’s need to modify global transfer pricing documentation methodologies in response to unilateral legislation of various countries.

Most importantly, the global TP requirements will require attendees in all future audits to be familiar with these global methodologies and information that the tax authorities will have had the chance to review.  

A Financial Express summary is included for reference:

http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2014/06/17/39946

Tax Executives Institute, Inc. (TEI) has provided excellent comments to the transfer pricing documentation paper by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS).  TEI responds to five questions of the Consultation Paper.  A link to their comments, and the Singapore Consultation Paper,  are included for reference:

https://www.tei.org/Documents/TEI%20submission%20re%20IRAS%20TP%20Documentation.pdf

http://www.iras.gov.sg/irashome/uploadedFiles/About_IRAS/Public_Consultation/pconsult_IT_Transfer%20Pricing%20Documentation_2014-09-01.pdf

Key observations:

  • The proposed rules for documentation by December elevate Singapore’s transfer pricing documentation requirements to a higher level than the current OECD guidelines, prior to its final recommendations, including how the Master File should be filed and transition thereto.
  • The Consultation sets forth guidelines for non-related Singapore entities including the provision of a functional analysis for contributions to value creation by each related group member, consolidated financial statements of the group, and transfer pricing policies re: all types of transactions between group members.  
  • Confidentiality concerns arise with respect to the proposed rules, accordingly appeals for exemption should be appropriately provided.
  • Adverse consequences for not providing “adequate documentation” (term not defined), including withdrawal of MAP support set forth in the relevant treaty.
  • TEI has proposed de minims thresholds to exclude immaterial transactions and excluding documentation for intra-country transactions.
  • TEI has suggested an approach to implementing new documentation guidance tracking OECD BEPS developments, with lead time to adjust processes accordingly.

TEI has provided a valuable contribution in their well-written and thoughtful comments to significant issues posed by countries unilaterally adopting new transfer pricing documentation rules prior to finalization of the OECD BEPS initiatives.

Most importantly, Singapore has suggested using domestic legislation to override the MAP process in treaties as well as introducing overly comprehensive documentation that has no relevance to the domestic entity and its intercompany transactions or transfer pricing methodologies.

This initiative by IRAS is indicative of a parade with an OECD banner, although each member has  a different drummer and leader with distinct initiatives and its concept for application of the “arm’s-length principle” to determine its fiscal fair share of tax to be collected from multinationals that will be determined prior to official OECD guidelines.  It is imperative that all interested parties follow this initiative by Singapore, in addition to correlative initiatives by other countries.

 

As the OECD is developing new guidelines to address transfer pricing (TP) risk, including the Country-by-Country (CbC) template, a lack of emphasis resides in the idea that every tax audit involving cross-border issues should require an opening discussion between the taxpayer and the tax authorities of the business, its relevance in that jurisdiction apart from its global business, the functions, assets and risks for that jurisdiction upon which the arm’s length principle is based, and the rationale for the level of income/loss generated during the audit years.

Transfer pricing documentation reports, including a local country report, may be available for review.  However, such reports may not simply convey the business rationale easily to form an accurate understanding prior to embarking upon a leap into technicalities and assumptions to initiate data requests and move forward on assumptions prematurely.  For example, a company investing in a less developed country seeking long-term growth based on the domestic opportunity may have start-up losses, although such losses may be significantly offset by potential future income.

The open audit discussion should be developed into a Best Practice Ways of Working framework which is discussed and signed by the taxpayer and tax authorities.  This framework should be a simple and practical document addressing open dialogue, preliminary discussion of issues designed to produce the relevant documentation, timelines for requesting and providing information and a continuing dialogue discussing the status of open issues and requests, with a mutual effort to resolve issues efficiently.

To the extent this simple idea could be integrated consistently and uniformly around the world, it is a challenge worth addressing.

The Best Practice Ways of Working Framework could be a very effective and practical tool, supplementing the technical and legal requirements for transfer pricing.

The Forum on Tax Administration (FTA), representing heads of tax administrations from 38 countries, concluded their 9th meeting on 24 October, 2014.  The meeting represented attendance by over 130 delegations, including representatives from the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF), Inter-American Center of Tax Administrations (CIAR), Centre de Rencontre des Administrations Fiscales (CREDAF), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations (IOTA).  The meeting included strategic visions for the Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP) and Co-operative Compliance programs.

Links to the meeting summary and MAP vision are included for reference:

http://www.oecd.org/ctp/administration/fta-2014-communique.pdf

http://www.oecd.org/site/ctpfta/map-strategic-plan.pdf

The following actions were agreed:

  • Enhanced cooperation strategy, based on existing legal instruments.
  • Created a new international tax platform, Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration (JITSIC Network) to focus on tax avoidance.
  • Implement the new standard on automatic exchange of information while protecting taxpayer confidentiality.
  • Improve practical operation of Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP) to address double tax issues more quickly and efficiently, integrated with the OECD BEPS action item.  Competent authorities of all member countries are “encouraged” to actively participate in this initiative.
  • Promote a voluntary compliance structure.
  • Develop principles on Co-operative Compliance arrangements that form an integral part of effective tax control frameworks.

MAP Strategic Plan summary – “Statement of Vision and Commitment”

  1. Collaboration of the FTA MAP Forum with other multilateral bodies, including OECD’s Working Party 1’s Focus Group, to further its goals.
  2. Participating Competent Authorities (CAs) commit to the stated goals and be accountable thereto.
  3. Allocation of adequate staffing levels and resources to meet CAs working demands.
  4. Adequate training programs and personnel practices.
  5. FTA MAP Forum’s engagement to address resource challenges.
  6. Empowerment of CAs to effect agreements in accordance with principles in the respective tax conventions.
  7. Absence of undue influence by administrative policies, practices or goals.
  8. Support resolution of MAP cases in accordance with multilateral principles, avoiding efforts such as maximizing revenue collection.
  9. Adoption of principle based and mutual trust principles.
  10. Adopt Best Practices in the pursuit of new initiatives to streamline and enhance processes to expedite MAP resolution.
  11. Sharing MAP Best Practices among FTA MAP participants.
  12. New MAP processes to elevate difficult cases.
  13. Enhance taxpayer’s involvement in case resolution, including bilateral/multilateral meetings and sharing case developments.
  14. Seek ways to avoid MAP cases, including APAs, joint audits, “roll-forward” adjustments and other techniques.
  15. Use multilateral MAP procedures.
  16. Adopt agreements for issue consistency.
  17. Avoidance of MAP manipulation by auditors.
  18. Deliver training on double taxation and CA processes via a “Global Awareness Training Module.”

The above meeting commitments and objectives are welcome as tax controversies increase and MAP procedures have seeming lost the elements of  timeliness, cost-effective resolution, avoidance of double taxation, transparency and efficiency.

It is hopeful that most tax administrations endorse, and commit to, the above MAP framework in an effort to achieve Best Practices for a win–win opportunity.

Today’s tax climate, OECD Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plans, 2014 changes to the OECD Model Tax Convention re: “Beneficial Ownership” (refer to 22 July 2014 post), and General Anti-Abuse Rules (GAAR) all focus on increased substance of activities in an entity, versus pure legal form, to derive relevant treaty benefits.

A recent Austrian Administrative High Court decision (VwGH 26/6/2014, 2011/15/0080-13) focused on the EU Parent-Subsidiary Directive (PSD) re: “directive shopping.”  There were dividend distributions from an Austrian company to a pure holding company in Cyprus with no people or physical assets. Withholding tax was paid by the Austrian company, with a refund claimed by the Cypriot company in accordance with the EU PSD.  (Note the Cypriot company had a Russian shareholder, for which direct distributions from Austria to Russia would not have the benefit of the EU PSD.)

The High Court, confirming the tax authority’s view, stated the Cypriot company structure was abusive.  Accordingly, the withholding tax refund application of the Cypriot company was denied.

The substance vs. form application of the case highlights the potential withholding tax issues for a pure holding company located in a tax favorable jurisdiction.  Thus, all holding company structures should be reviewed under current law, and most importantly with respect to future international tax changes focusing on the proper substance to receive treaty benefits.

EU State Aid: A primer

PwC has provided an outline of EU State Aid requirements.  This comprehensive and succinct summary provides context for the  OECD BEPS provisions, tax arrangements that are considered illegal State Aid, and a valuable reference for potential EU State Aid cases in the foreseeable future.  A link to the outline is provided for reference:

http://www.pwc.com/en_GX/gx/tax/newsletters/tax-policy-bulletin/assets/pwc-eu-fiscal-state-aid.pdf

This information provides a valuable context against which the recent inquiries have been focused, as well as potential areas (including OECD BEPS Actions) that may constitute illegal State Aid in the future.  All MNE’s with European operations should be familiar with these legal provisions and the continuing importance that they have in today’s rapidly changing international tax environment.

Most MNE’s have an internal audit department, although the extent to which this audit team minimizes tax risks and enhances tax governance is generally not identified.

New out of the box ideas may be necessary for the internal audit function to address the evolution of transfer pricing and new challenges that will surely bring additional appeals and risks of double taxation.  

With the advent of the OECD’s BEPS Action Plans, parallel UN actions, increased tax audits and tax risks re: transfer pricing documentation, there has not been a significant increase in the role of internal audit teams to monitor and minimize potential tax risks, including double taxation. There is also a resource limitation on tax professionals, thus internal audit may provide a win-win opportunity.  The near future may include the addition of an internal tax audit team and/or adding tax professionals to the team.

Best Practice ideas for internal audit collaboration:

  • Tax topic training, including OECD’s BEPS actions
  • Tax risk awareness training, including Permanent Establishment (PE) and transfer pricing methodologies
  • Rotation of tax professionals in the internal audit team
  • Knowledge of tax policies, including intercompany service agreements and internal governance
  • Issues / trends in tax audits and hot topics
  • Treasury / financing issues subject to internal governance

The ideas are meant to promote thought and consideration for Best Practices.

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