Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

http://www.oecd.org/ctp/transfer-pricing/Revised-Section-E-Safe-Harbours-TP-Guidelines.pdf

The OECD approved this revision on 16 May 2013 and discusses the benefits and concerns for safe harbour provisions.  It encourages appropriate bilateral or multilateral safe harbors for which the previous guidance was generally silent.  In an effort to facilitate negotiations between tax administrations, sample memoranda of understanding (MOUs)” are included for competent authorities to establish bilateral safe harbors for certain classes of transfer pricing cases.  Sample MOUs are provided for low risk activities of Manufacturing, Distribution, and Research and Development Services.

Benefits to be gained:

  • Compliance relief
  • Certainty
  • Administrative simplicity

Safe harbour concerns:

  • Divergence from the arm’s length principle
  • Risk of double taxation, double non-taxation, and mutual agreement concerns
  • Possibility of opening avenues for tax planning opportunities
  • Equity and uniformity issues

Sections 4.128 and 4.129 emphasize the fact that safe harbours can be negotiated on a bilateral or multilateral basis, providing significant relief from compliance burdens and administrative complexity.  Additionally, a safe harbour is not binding, or precedential, for countries which have not themselves adopted the safe harbour.

In an environment of increasing request for assistance from competent authorities, I am hopeful this tool is used proactively and efficiently by competent authorities to provide certainty for past, current, and future low risk activities.  Multinationals should be familiar with these new guidelines and the respective MOUs to aid negotiation efforts in bilateral or multilateral transactions.  Discussion of this principle in meetings with competent authorities will hopefully lead to enhanced mutuality, cooperation and resolution.

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