Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Tax Executives Institute, Inc. (TEI) recently published comments re: OECD BEPS Action 10, addressing Low Value-Adding Intra-Group Services, and Action 14 re: Dispute Resolution Mechanisms.  The comments elicit practical considerations, including worldwide consistency, in their well written and reasoned responses.  Although many individuals/organizations have provided comments, TEI’s submissions merit required reading and thoughtful consideration. Links to TEI’s comments are included for reference:

http://www.tei.org/Documents/TEI%20Comments%20BEPS%20Action%2010%20-%20Low%20Value%20Added%20Services%20-%20FINAL%20to%20OECD%2013%20January%202015.pdf

http://www.tei.org/Documents/TEI%20Comments%20BEPS%20Action%2014%20-%20Dispute%20Resolution%20-%20FINAL%20to%20OECD%2015%20January%202015.pdf

Key comments re: Action 10, Low Value-Adding Services

  • Non-global implementation will diminish the intended value of this initiative.
  • A “rebuttable presumption” should replace the “benefits test” for low value -added services.
  • Exclusion of corporate senior management’s services is complex; it may be easier to include such services.
  • A mark-up % of 0-5% should replace 2-5% for flexibility and reflecting cost contribution arrangements.
  • Any percentage within the safe harbour range should be allowable.
  • Guidance should be issued re: coordination of Action 10 and Action 13 re: transfer pricing documentation.
  • Reference to the OECD’s previous work on safe harbours has been omitted, for no stated reason.
  • The safe harbour should be available if the taxpayer’s method is different in another jurisdiction (i.e. APA’s, non-OECD alignment).

Key comments re: Action 14, Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

  • Published MAP guidelines and procedures are welcome, although redacted settlements would also reveal legal basis for outcomes,  and may be used as precedent for taxpayers.
  • KPI’s should be established.
  • Monitoring the MAP process is an excellent proposal suggested in the report.
  • A global dispute resolution mechanism and mandatory binding arbitration should be developed, with arbitration available as a pre-MAP appeal avenue.
  • Deadlines for Competent Authority (CA) requests should be in place, along with penalties for CA if they do not respond timely.
  • Maintaining confidentiality is critical and should be a primary focus, especially for countries initially adopting this process.
  • Transparency of independency for Competent Authorities would improve confidence in the process.
  • Taxpayers should participate in face-to-face meetings to facilitate the process, and a simplified process should initiate MAP assistance.
  • Precluding taxpayers from using MAP, directly or indirectly giving up their rights, is not acceptable.
  • Binding arbitration provisions and/or use of a domestic or treaty-based anti-abuse rule should not preclude MAP.
  • Tax, interest and penalties should be suspended during the MAP process.

The comments on Action 14 are especially critical, as dispute resolution will be a critical factor in ensuring that the BEPS guidelines legislated into law will have consistent, fair and transparent processes to resolve disputes timely and effectively.

S, Africa’s new interest limitation on related party debt, approximating 40% of EBITDA, is effective as of 1/1/2015.  The new rules are prescribed prior to the OECD BEPS Action 4 Guidelines re: interest limitations.  Disallowed interest is carried over indefinitely, subject to the subsequent year’s limitation.

PwC’s guidance is provided for reference:

http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/tax-services/publications/insights/assets/pwc-south-africa-introduces-interest-deduction-limits-debts-owed.pdf

As countries aggressively enact BEPS incentives with unilateral legislation, the premise of worldwide consistency for new OECD guidelines diminishes virtually daily.  New legislation also reduces the country’s further incentive to change such legislation to align with final OECD guidelines.

As S. Africa’s new rules demonstrate, there should be a BEPS champion/team in place at MNE’s to capture such changes worldwide and measure such impacts upon the global organization.  Additionally, future strategic planning should consider current BEPS initiatives, and unilateral legislation that has been passed, to measure tax efficiencies of current and future debt structures.

The OECD has released comments received in response to BEPS Action Item 14: Make Dispute Resolutions More Effective. These comments are valuable in understanding these important mechanisms that could minimize potential double taxation and increase certainty in a timely manner, as well as comprehend its significant impact on other current BEPS Guidelines that are being drafted such as Action Item 6: Treaty Abuse re: subjective tests being proposed such as the Principal Purpose Test (PPT).

Unfortunately, mandatory arbitration, as well as consistent consideration and application of the MAP procedure, are ideals that will not be realized, due in part to countries not wanting to give up their control and concept of sovereignty.  As the BEPS guidelines, and unilateral country legislative actions, become more complex and subjective, the dispute resolution process increases its vital importance exponentially.  Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to make these mechanisms work efficiently and consistently in a transparent environment.

The link to the respective comments are included for reference:

http://www.oecd.org/tax/dispute/public-comments-action-14-make-dispute-resolution-mechanisms-more-effective.pdf

Ireland GAAR: New rules

Ireland’s new Finance Bill has introduced a new General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR), effective as of 23 October 2014.

The GAAR rule provides that where a taxpayer enters into a transaction, the tax authority may invoke the GAAR rule if it would be reasonable to consider that it is a “tax avoidance” transaction resulting in a tax advantage.  Accordingly, any reduction in tax payable is disallowed, in addition to a 30% surcharge.

PwC’s recent summary of Ireland’s tax developments is included for reference, including the GAAR rule on page 20:

http://download.pwc.com/ie/pubs/2014-pwc-ireland-budget-finance-bill.pdf

Key observations:

  • No time limit for raising a GAAR assessment.
  • A “protective notification” procedure is provided, protecting the taxpayer from the surcharge.
  • The taxpayer is obliged to furnish all documentation pertaining to the transaction along with an opinion as to why they believe the transaction does not fall within the GAAR provisions.

The GAAR rules are imposing additional arenas of uncertainty, dependent on the subjective interpretations and conclusions of the tax administration.  For Ireland, there is no time limitation and significant penalties are imposed for such assessments.

Due diligence procedures should be provided as an internal governance process to identify and review GAAR rules, domestic and/or treaty application, and possible avenues of appeal for transactions that may be affected.  (Note, details of the EU Parent-Subsidiary Directive GAAR provisions are provided in the 11 December, 2014 post)

The UK Diverted Profits Tax (DPT) Conference on 13 January, sponsored by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation, was presented to a packed audience.  Attendees represented news agencies, advisors, tax executives as well as other countries, including Australia.

The speaker panel was inclusive of the following presenters that provided excellent thoughts for discussion:

  • Philip Baker QC, a barrister and QC practising from Field Court Tax Chambers.
  • Michael Devereux, Director of the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation, Professor of Business Taxation and Professorial Fellow at Oriel College, Oxford.
  • Paul Morton, Head of Group Tax at Reed Elsevier Group plc.
  • Heather Self, Partner at Pinsent Masons.
  • Mike Williams, Director of Business and International Tax at HMRC.

A few statements from the panelists offer some background on this debatable issue:

Philip Baker: The DPT is a Targeted Anti-Avoidance Measure.

Michael Devereux: This may represent an overlay of economic substance over existing international tax rules, and there is a debatable point if the UK treatment should depend on the incidence of income / tax inclusion somewhere else.

Paul Morton: A very real, and complex, set of facts were presented showing that countries’ initiatives may result in a tax burden that exceeds 100% of the income without adequate recourse to avoid double taxation.

Heather Self: Practical aspects, from a MNE perspective, of the proposal were presented, supplemented by comments in her 19 December article of Tax Journal.  One of the conclusions in her article states: “This measure will make BEPS more difficult to achieve, and it risks a whole raft of unilateral measures being introduced by other countries.”

Mike Williams: The DPT proposal has alot of political commitment; it is consistent with EU law and treaty obligations; the UK is trying not to tax beyond its fair share of profits; loan exclusions probably do not go far enough and to combat aggressive tax planning, why wait another year.

Comments also addressed the aggressive effective date of April 2015, noting this timeline is in advance of the final OECD BEPS guidelines and there is very little time for reasoned comments and review between now and April.

This initiative has drawn the attention of many countries, anxious to examine the potential benefits it would add to their economy.  Accordingly, it is imperative to track this proposal, its effective date, implementation and a “Follow the Leader” approach in other jurisdictions.

Tax Executives Institute, Inc. (TEI) has issued follow-up comments in response to the OECD public discussion draft on 21 November 2014, in addition to its prior comments on 8 April 2014 on the first discussion draft.  The latest comments are referenced herein:

http://www.tei.org/Documents/TEI%20Comments%20-%20BEPS%20Action%206%20-%20Follow%20Up%20Work%20on%20Treaty%20Abuse%20-%20FINAL%20to%20OECD%208%20January%202015.pdf

Key observations:

  • The Principal Purpose test remains highly subjective and susceptible to unpredictable interpretations, therefore TEI opposes including this test in the OECD model treaty.
  • Jurisdictions should adopt an administrative appeal process if the Principal Purpose test is asserted.
  • A treaty incorporating a Limitation on Benefits provision (LOB provision) and a Principal Purpose test may deny benefits if the LOB test is satisfied and the benefit is denied under the Principal Purpose test.  The LOB provision should be the primary (objective) tool rather than one part of a two-part treaty abuse test.
  • The Principal Purpose test may result in benefits not recorded on audited financial statements due to its uncertainty.
  • Transition relief and prospective arrangements should be included in the final guidelines.

TEI’s comments should be reviewed to understand the myriad issues proposed to combat treaty abuse.  Additional uncertainty, accompanied by appeals of such assessments, will be the likely result of the proposal as currently drafted.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) has published an expanded Transfer Pricing (TP) e-Tax Guide (linked herein for reference) that consolidates the four previous TP guides.  The Guidance adheres to the TP arm’s length principle, while expanding required disclosures in alignment with the OECD BEPS objectives.

http://www.iras.gov.sg/irashome/uploadedfiles/e-Tax_Guide/etaxguide_Transfer_Pricing_Guidelines_(Second_Edition)_2015_01_06.pdf

Key observations:

  • IRAS will adjust profits upwards for understated profits, although no mention is made of downward adjustments.
  • IRAS welcomes discussions to discuss difficulties in applying the arm’s length principle.
  • Contemporaneous TP documentation = on or before the tax return due date.
  • Group level TP documentation includes an organization chart of all related parties transacting with the Singapore taxpayer, the group’s business models and strategies, profit drivers including a list of intangibles and legal owners, business activities and functions of each group member with relevant supply chains, business relationships among related parties and group financial statements for the lines of business involving the Singapore taxpayer.
  • Entity level documentation includes a list of related parties to whom the local management reports for its operations, number of employees in each department, business models and strategies, contracts/agreements apart from detailed functional and benchmark analyses.
  • TP documentation exceptions include in-country related party transactions, routine services charged at cost + 5%, APA agreements or de-minimis stated thresholds for transactions and services between related parties.
  • Collaborative engagement methodologies are outlined for the Transfer Pricing Consultation program, by which TP methods and documentation of selected taxpayers will be reviewed.  Examples of high risk transactions are included in Section 7.5
  • Unilateral APAs are not accepted.
  • APA rollback years are acceptable, generally limited to 2 years.
  • MAP and APA methodologies are stated, including factors when IRAS will discontinue the MAP or APA process.
  • Section 16 summarizes updates and amendments of the TP Guidelines.

These guidelines should be reviewed, especially the new TP documentation guidelines as other countries in the APAC region and elsewhere will monitor and possibly adopt similar guidelines.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 305 other followers

%d bloggers like this: