Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Archive for January, 2015

OECD Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB): Update

The OECD’s TIWB program’s trial phase ended in December, 2014, with a launch scheduled in 2015, subsequent to a review process.  (Refer to the 9 June, 2013 post).

The TIWB’s objective is to enable sharing of tax audit knowledge and skills with tax administrators in developing countries through a targeted, real-time “learning by doing” approach.  The program encompasses transfer pricing, thin capitalization, APA’s, anti-avoidance rules, pre-audit risk / case selection, and VAT, although customs is excluded. Links to the program summary and the Toolkit (published in Nov. 2014) are included for reference:

http://www.oecd.org/tax/taxinspectors.htm

http://www.oecd.org/tax/tax-global/tax-inspectors-without-borders-toolkit.pdf

The Toolkit details the role of a TIWB Secretariat as a Facilitator, and roles and responsibilities of the parties to this shared arrangement.  Eligible individuals must meet a 5-year minimum audit experience requirement, and they can be currently working or recently retired.  Most importantly, the Toolkit addresses legal liability considerations and confidentiality restrictions during, and after, their assistance. T

his initiative should be monitored closely, as there do not seem to be prescribed transparency rules for the company under audit.  Therefore, a question for the opening audit could be an inquiry as to the tax administration’s expectations for outside expert assistance from TIWB.  Additionally, an expert with limited experience, coupled with the lack of familiarity with subjective jurisdictional rules for GAAR assessments, for example, may place additional burdens on an expert and the host country in assessing inherently complex rules.

This initiative has a strong likelihood for implementation that further reinforces the OECD’s intent to provide additional guidance for developing countries as complex BEPS Actions are implemented on a domestic level.  Accordingly, it is imperative to review the Toolkit for current familiarity with this program and follow its developments in the near future.

EU TP Forum: Ready, set, go

The European Commission has formally established the EU Joint Transfer Pricing Forum expert group, based on the press release of 26/01/2015.  The Forum will be composed of transfer pricing experts that will discuss TP problems, advise the Commission on TP issues and assist the Commission in finding practical solutions.

Members will consist of Member States’ tax administrations and 18 organisations, for which guidelines for application are also attached for reference.  The names of the organizations will be published.  Rules for observer status are also set forth.  The Commission will publish all relevant documents such as agendas, minutes and participants’ submissions.  The Decision is applicable until 31 March 2019.

The definition of organisations is stated as: “Companies, associations, NGO’s, trade unions, universities, research institutes, Union agencies, Union bodies and international organisations.”  Application are to be submitted by 25 February 2015.

http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/resources/documents/taxation/company_tax/transfer_pricing/forum/decision_c(2015)247_en.pdf

http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/resources/documents/taxation/company_tax/transfer_pricing/forum/call_applications_2015_en.pdf

Further work on the work of the Forum may be accessed at:

http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/taxation/company_tax/transfer_pricing/forum/index_en.htm

This development should be closely followed, notably in the member selection, recommendations provided, and TP solutions proposed.

Inconsistent (tax) terminology adds to confusion

The inconsistent use of (tax) terminology in drafting / enacting legislation and communicating issues re: perceived tax abuse, developing specific/targeted/general anti-avoidance rules (SAAR, TAAR, GAAR), anti-abuse rules, etc. promotes subjectivity, uncertainty, and misguided perceptions in trying to understand complex legal and technical international tax laws and regulations.

The recently drafted anti-abuse rule in the EU Parent-Subsidiary Directive (attached link for reference) is designed as a minimum standard to be adopted by EU Member States.  Article 1, paragraph 4 of the Directive states “This Directive shall not preclude the application of domestic or agreement-based provisions required for the prevention of tax evasion, tax fraud or abuse.”  This language should be compared to other tax legislation that introduce additional subjectivity and confusion with undefined and misunderstood terminology.

http://register.consilium.europa.eu/doc/srv?l=EN&f=ST%2016633%202014%20INIT

Subjective terminology that accompanies undefined verbiage as a basis for tax laws and regulations, such as anti-avoidance / abuse rules, further complicates comprehension, application, interpretation, and assessment of complex international tax rules.

The phrases “tax evasion” and “tax fraud” clearly set forth bright legal lines for definition and enforcement, whereas inherently subjective phrases of “tax avoidance,” “aggressive tax planning,” “intent of Parliament”, “tax abuse,” and similar terminology result in additional uncertainty for deciphering the true intent of significant tax legislation.

It would be beneficial to recognize the inherent inconsistencies of terminology applied in tax laws and regulations, and commence inclusion of verbiage and definitions that provide clarity promoting consistent application, implementation and enforcement of international tax guidelines.

Slovakia joins interest limitation parade

Slovakia joins the march of others, including Germany and S. Africa, that have adopted EBITDA limitations for interest deductions.  Slovakia limits interest to 25% of EBITDA, with no carryovers allowable.  The 2015 tax amendments also extend transfer pricing rules to domestic related party transactions, as well as potential loss of future benefits for net operating loss carryovers.

EY’s Global Tax Alert summarizing these changes is included for reference:

http://taxinsights.ey.com/archive/archive-pdfs/2014g-cm4890-slovak-parliament-approves-2015-tax-amendments.pdf

BEPS continues to focus on interest deductions and limiting or allocating such deductions based on the premise that they are a base eroding mechanism that should not be fully deductible.  However, such limitation introduces a mismatch of the related party’s interest income that is not similarly limited, thereby increasing the incidence of unfair taxation.  This argument is contrary to the hybrid entity mismatch rules whereby a deduction is not allowable for income that is not includible, or limited in the case of a double deduction situation.  Accordingly, BEPS seeks not only to create a neutral result for a deduction and the related income, but BEPS disallows the tax benefits of common intercompany financing arrangements while (unfairly) retaining domestic benefits for full taxation of related party interest income to increase the country’s domestic fisc.  

Countries that have adopted EBITDA limitations will not be incentivized to change such legislation for the final OECD BEPS guidelines re: interest, thereby causing further complexity, a potential lack of global consistency and avenues of deviation for BEPS implementation.

MNE’s operating in such countries should review the financial and tax impact of the new rules, noting this will be a significant trend in the future that changes the manner in which debt financing is structured in the worldwide organization.

CbC reporting: Spain is 2nd

The Spanish Treasury has announced that a Country-by-Country (CbC) reporting obligation will be included in the new Regulations, expected to be adopted in the first half of 2015 and effective on 1/1/2016.  This announcement follows an earlier decision by the UK to adopt CbC reporting for UK headquartered companies, also effective as of 2016 (refer to 12 December 2014 post).

The Spanish CbC reporting template is expected to mirror the OECD BEPS proposal to ensure alignment.

Best Practice notes:

  1. Timing: The OECD Guidelines are expected to include CbC reporting for the 2016 tax year, with one year provided to provide such documentation due to differing tax years of subsidiaries, timing of statutory reports, etc. upon which the relevant information is based.  The UK and Spanish CbC reporting are also focusing on 2016, although no date has been yet prescribed for providing the documentation to the tax authorities.  The dates legislated into law by the countries may precede the OECD suggested timeline.
  2. Coordination of CbC and TP documentation: If there are perceptive gaps or issues that are to further explained and referenced in the transfer pricing documentation, the date for providing contemporaneous TP documentation may be earlier than the CbC reporting date.  Therefore, planning should start now to take into consideration that not enough time may be available in 2017 to coordinate both sets of reports effectively.
  3. CbC definitions:  Ideally the UK, Spain and other countries adopting CbC will use consistent definitions for the items to be reported for global consistency.  To the extent there are different definitions, additional complexity, time and cost will be incurred by MNE’s.
  4. Items to report for CbC: At an early stage, it appears that the UK and Spain are adopting identical items for reporting purposes.  However, it is expected that some countries will use the OECD Guidelines as a base upon which other “wish list” items are to be included, resulting in further complexity.
  5. Sharing of CbC information: The first countries to adopt CbC reporting may share such information as a means of transparency with other tax authorities.  Therefore, it is expected that all countries may have access to this information very quickly irrespective of their domestic laws.

TEI’s comments: OECD BEPS Actions 10 and 14

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 BEPS incentivized interest rules

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.

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