Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

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.

Loyens & Loeff provides a comprehensive and concise summary of the focus for the OECD BEPS Action 5, Countering Harmful Tax Practices.  One of the priorities for this action is to improve transparency, with the EU Directive on Cooperation as a possible tool to carry out this objective.  The Council Directive on administrative cooperation is highlighted to draw attention to its possible role in the OECD BEPS drama.  An excerpt from their summary, and a link to their article, are provided for reference:

“Another priority under Action 5 is to improve transparency, including compulsory spontaneous exchange on rulings related to preferential regimes. To that extent the FHTP has put together a framework that describes in which situations, which information on which rulings should be exchanged between which countries. The Report mentions that the information exchange may take place on the basis of existing legal instruments, such as bilateral information exchange instruments, the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters and the EU Directive on cooperation in the field of taxation. However, it remains unclear on what legal basis countries would have the obligation to exchange this specific information and how confidentiality can be guaranteed. Furthermore, it can be expected that such obligation may conflict with domestic legal requirements. The Report is also silent on how this should be handled.”

http://www.loyensloeff.com/nl-NL/Documents/Action%205%20–%20Countering%20Harmful%20Tax%20Practices%20More%20Effectively.pdf?_cldee=ZXZlbnRzQGxveWVuc2xvZWZmLmNvbQ%3D%3D&urlid=5

Council Directive 2011/16/EU of 15 February 2011 on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation, is applicable as of 1 January 2013 and is repealing the Directive 77/799/EES and lays down clearer and more precise rules governing administrative cooperation, in order to establish a wider scope of administrative cooperation between Member States.

The opportunity for OECD to successfully carry out is Action Plans relies on a legal instrument that provides automatic and timely implementation by the relevant countries.  A forthcoming multilateral instrument may also be a possible tool to accomplish its objective.  It is critical to monitor the implementation of this objective, as countries may comply completely, partially or not at all.  Therein lies the complexity.

The OECD has published comments in response to its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plan 11, methodologies for collecting and analyzing BEPS data. A link to the comments is attached for reference:

http://www.oecd.org/ctp/tax-policy/comments-action-11-establishing-methodologies.pdf

The comments are valuable in assessing current perceptions and trends by interested parties, none of which are multinationals. It is interesting to read comments re: public disclosure of country by country reporting information, etc. and the transparency which today’s environment is demanding. The rapid change and volatility of international tax rules, especially transfer pricing, are leading to a tsunami effect, with the roar of its crashing waves extending far out into the foreseeable future.

KPMG’s Euro Tax Flash provides a summary of the European Commission’s formal state aid investigations into tax rulings granted by Ireland (Apple) and Luxembourg (Fiat).  This round of investigations follows three investigations, announced 11 June 2014, into alleged state aid granted by Ireland (Apple), Luxembourg (Fiat) and the Netherlands (Starbucks) via transfer pricing rulings.

The procedure is now open for interested parties, including Member States to provide comments to the Commission.

The KPMG Euro Tax Flash and preliminary decisions (English version for Ireland, French version for Luxembourg) are attached for reference:

https://www.kpmg.com/Global/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/taxnewsflash/Documents/tp-eu-sept30-2014.pdf

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/253200/253200_1582634_87_2.pdf

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/253203/253203_1582635_49_2.pdf

Key observations:

  • State Aid – Apple; Section 3.1, par. 46: Any aid granted by a Member State or through State resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favoring certain undertakings or the provision of certain goods shall be incompatible with the common market, insofar as it affects trade between Member States.
  • Qualification as state aid – Apple; Section 3.1, par. 47:  The following cumulative conditions must be met: (i) the measure must be imputable to the State and financed through State resources; (ii) it must confer an advantage on its recipient; (iii) that advantage must be selective; and (iv) the measure must distort or threaten to distort competition and have the potential to affect trade between Member States.
  • Arm’s length pricing – Apple; Section 3.1, par. 55: The Court of Justice has confirmed that if the method of taxation for intra-group transfers does not comply with the arm’s length principle, and leads to a taxable base inferior to the one which would result from a correct implementation of that principle, it provides a selective advantage to the company concerned.
  • OECD Guidelines – Apple; Section 3.1, par. 56: The OECD Guidelines are a reference document recommending methods for approximating an arm’s length pricing outcome and have been retained as appropriate guidance for this purpose in previous Commission decisions.

These formal rulings and comments by interested parties should be followed closely, especially in today’s challenging international tax environment.

EU case law and European Commission reviews have a significant impact upon the new international tax principles being established by the OECD and EU.  For example, the general anti-abuse rule (GAAR) provision in the Proposal for the 2014 EU Parent-Subsidiary was ultimately not included in the final version of the 2014 Directive, one reason being that the requirements exceeded the precedents of EU case law and would not be ultimately sustained.

To the extent that new OECD guidelines provide an alternative, or exceptions, to the arm’s length principle, it should have a direct impact upon the precedence for reliance by the European Commission re: transfer pricing issues.

 

 

EY’s Global Tax Alert of 29 Sept. 2014 outlines the latest developments of the OECD BEPS initiatives, including BEPS summaries for Australia, Canada, Chile, Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK.  A copy of the Alert is provided herein for reference.

Key developments:

  • Chile has introduced general anti-avoidance rules (GAAR) and CFC legislation, new audit powers and transfer pricing amendments re: business restructurings and thin capitalization.
  • Canada released for consultation several legislative proposals, including thin capitalization and interest withholding tax rules for certain back-to-back lending arrangements.
  • Netherlands will await further BEPS developments prior to taking any unilateral actions.
  • Switzerland has adopted a more restrictive approach when reviewing international structures from a treaty shopping perspective.
  • The UK HMRC formally committed to implementing the country-by-country template, although the timing has not been decided.

As the OECD BEPS developments continue in 2015, it is especially important to view the actions by countries re: unilateral actions prior to final OECD guidance.  Additionally, country guidance may be more restrictive than the OECD recommendations, as well as deciding to impose additional disclosure requirements in their legislation.  The effective dates of such OECD guidance will also not be uniform, via execution of a multilateral instrument and/or domestic legislation.

 

On 16 September 2014, the OECD issued reports and recommendations with respect to the following focus areas set forth in the July 2013 BEPS Action Plan:

Action 1 – Tax challenges of the digital economy (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 1)
Action 2 – Hybrid mismatch arrangements (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 2)
Action 5 – Harmful tax practices of countries (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 5)
Action 6 – Addressing treaty abuse (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 6)
Action 8 – Transfer pricing for intangibles (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 8)
Action 13 – Transfer pricing documentation and country-by-country reporting (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 13)
Action 15 – Multilateral instrument (see EY Global Tax Alert on Action 15)
The OECD also issued an Explanatory Statement providing an overview of developments in the BEPS project.

See EY Global Tax Alert, OECD releases highly anticipated 2014 output of BEPS Action Plan, dated 18 September 2014, for an overview of the overall package of September 2014 OECD BEPS releases.

On 20-21 September 2014, the G20 commitment to the OECD BEPS project was reiterated at the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Cairns, Australia. The meeting communique focused on the documents released by the OECD in the lead up to the meeting, stating “[t]oday, we welcome the significant progress achieved towards the completion of our two-year G20/OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plan and commit to finalizing all action items in 2015.” The communique also addressed with approval the continuing developments with respect to the new standard for automatic exchange of information on financial accounts and noted the increasing engagement with developing countries on BEPS matters.

On 22 September 2014, following the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting, the OECD provided an update regarding its ongoing work on the particular BEPS considerations for developing countries and on the participation of developing countries in the new standard for automatic exchange of information. The OECD released two reports on these topics: “A Report to G20 Development Working Group on the Impact of BEPS in Low Income Countries (Part 2)” and “Automatic Exchange of Information: A Roadmap for Developing Country Participation.”

On 25-26 September 2014, representatives of more than 100 countries met at the OECD for the 19th Annual Global Forum on Tax Treaties. BEPS developments in general, and the tax treaty related issues with respect to BEPS in particular, were a focus of the meeting discussions.

Australia
On 25 September 2014, the Australian Parliament passed previously announced legislation which includes changes to the thin capitalization rules, a rewrite of the exemption for foreign non-portfolio dividends received by Australian companies, and amendment of the foreign resident capital gains tax concession rules. The thin capitalization changes are effective for years starting on or after 1 July 2014. The existing exemption for Australian companies receiving non-portfolio dividends from foreign companies will no longer apply for distributions made after the date of Royal Assent of the Act, and the replacement by the new rules will commence for distributions made after the date of Royal Assent of the Act. The Royal Assent may occur as soon as within days to a week.

See EY Global Tax Alert, Australian Bills affecting financing and structuring become law, dated 25 September 2014 and EY Global Tax Alert, Australian Tax Bills affect international financing and structuring, dated 18 July 2014, which summarized the proposals in the Bill.

Canada
On 29 August 2014, Canada’s Department of Finance released for consultation revised legislative proposals to implement measures announced in Economic Action Plan 2014, including revisions to previously released legislation under which: (i) Canadian financial institutions would be subject to tax in respect of certain offshore derivative “insurance swaps,” (ii) the regulated foreign financial institution exception to the foreign accrual property income rules would no longer apply to non-financial institutions, and (iii) certain back-to-back lending arrangements would be subject to thin capitalization and interest withholding tax rules.

However, although Economic Action Plan 2014 contained a high-level description of measures under consideration to counteract treaty shopping, none of these were included in the revised legislative proposals. The implementation of these measures is being deferred at this time, as the Government will instead await further work by the OECD in relation to the BEPS project.

See EY Global Tax Alert, Canada’s Department of Finance releases draft international tax measures, dated 3 September 2014.

Chile
On 10 September 2014, the Chilean Chamber of Representatives approved the Bill of Law amending tax regulations, based on the latest draft proposed by the Chilean Ministry of Finance on 9 August 2014. The Bill now must be published by the Chilean Government. The provisions of the Bill include, among other significant changes, the introduction of general anti avoidance rules and CFC legislation, new audit powers for the Chilean Internal Revenue Service, and amendments to the transfer pricing rules related to business restructurings and to the thin capitalization rules. Each provision has a specified entry into force date, which varies from 2014 to 2017.

See EY Global Tax Alert, Chilean Congress approves tax reform, dated 15 September 2014.

Netherlands
On 16 September 2014, in a letter to the Dutch Parliament, the Dutch State Secretary of Finance provided the Dutch Government’s response to the reports in the OECD BEPS project that had been published earlier that day. In line with earlier official statements, the State Secretary indicated that the Dutch Government has actively participated in the BEPS project and will continue to do so as part of a broader effort to develop a durable solution that does not harm the Dutch fiscal investment climate. These efforts have, for instance, led to the extension of the application of the safe harbor rules on substance to group financing/licensing companies that do not request an Advance Pricing Agreement and to holding companies that wish to conclude an Advance Tax Ruling. Importantly, and also in line with earlier official statements, the State Secretary reiterated that at this stage it would be premature to take any unilateral actions based on the 2014 BEPS recommendations and that the Dutch Government will await further developments, as the BEPS project is an holistic one and the OECD is expected to provide further recommendations next year.

Switzerland
On 22 September 2014, the Swiss Federal Council presented the draft legislation for the third Swiss Corporate Tax Reform and initiated the consultation phase. The proposed tax reform aims to strengthen the attractiveness of Switzerland as a business location and is Switzerland’s response to the international tax policy developments and the review of preferential tax practices by the OECD in the BEPS project and by the EU. The Swiss Federal Council proposes to replace the tax regimes that have come under increased international pressure by new measures that are fully in line with international standards, such as a Swiss patent box and notional interest deduction on equity. Other key elements of the reform are cantonal tax rate reductions, a step-up upon migration and change of tax status, abolition of the one-time capital duty, unrestricted use of tax losses, and change to a direct participation exemption. During the next four months, political parties, cantons, and interested associations are invited to share their views on the proposed tax reform. Given the magnitude of the reforms under consideration and the legislative procedure in Switzerland, it is expected that the new law would not enter into force until 2018-2020.

See EY Global Tax Alert, Swiss Federal Council initiates the consultation phase for Corporate Tax Reform III, dated 23 September 2014.

On a separate note, as a result of the international developments with respect to the BEPS project, the Swiss Federal Tax Administration has adopted a more restrictive approach when reviewing international structures from a treaty shopping perspective. In particular, the substance (physical and functional) at the level of the foreign parent company of a Swiss subsidiary is now under increased scrutiny through application of the beneficial ownership concept when treaty relief is applied for in Switzerland with respect to outbound dividends paid by the Swiss subsidiary.

United Kingdom
On 20 September 2014, HM Treasury issued a press release “formally committing” to implement the country-by-country reporting template as released by the OECD on 16 September 2014. The United Kingdom thus is the first of the OECD and G20 countries involved in the BEPS project formally to commit to the template, although the announcement did not include any comment in relation to the proposed timing for implementation.

EYG no. CM4759

The UN organized its second workshop on “Tax Base Protection for Developing Countries” on 23 Sept. 2014.  The background materials for the workshop provide valuable insights into the roles that developing countries will continue to play, directly or indirectly, as a part of the OECD BEPS Action Plan.  The final outcome of the project will be a UN handbook.  The topics for the workshop were in parallel with the background materials, focusing on the following topics: (1) Preventing the artificial avoidance of PE status; (2) Neutralizing effects of hybrid mismatch arrangements; (3) Limiting interest deductions; (4) Taxation of capital gains; (5) Preventing tax treaty abuse; and (6) Transparency and disclosure.  Additional information, including the background materials, are referenced at the following link:

http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/tax/2014TBP2

This workshop, and its continuing developments, are significant in assessing whether the OECD Actions will be followed by developing and non-OECD countries in their recommended form and/or if a simpler, more direct application of international tax rules will be pursued.  All interested parties should be aware of these materials and the forthcoming UN handbook.

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