The OECD recently published its peer review report on treaty shopping re: prevention of treaty abuse under the inclusive framework on BEPS Action 6. A link to the document is included for reference.
Article 6 targeted treaty abuse; Action 15 introduced the multilateral instrument (MLI) to implement BEPS actions. The MLI is the mechanism whereby countries are implementing the treaty-shopping minimum standard.
The first Peer Review shows the effectiveness of implementing the minimum standard for treaty abuse. The intent of Action 6 is to stop treaty shopping in its entirety.
The treaty shopping minimum standard requires countries to include two components in their tax agreements; an express statement on non-taxation and one of three ways to address treaty-shopping. The provisions require bilateral agreement. The 2017 OECD Model Tax Convention includes the following express statement: “Intending to conclude a Convention for the elimination of double taxation with respect to taxes on income and on capital without creating opportunities for non-taxation or reduced taxation through tax evasion or avoidance…”
The three methods of addressing treaty shopping include;
- Principal Purpose Test (PPT) alone, or
- PPT with a simplified or detailed version of the Limitation on Benefits (LOB) rule, or
- Detailed LOB rule with a mechanism to deal with conduit arrangements.
As the MLI’s are agreed, it is important to understand the three methods above, and the express statement which includes reference to the elimination of double taxation, a concept which is sometimes ignored in the pursuit of perceived treaty / tax abuse.
The European Commission has aimed its sights upon the Limitation on Benefits (LOB) provision between Netherlands and Japan. Netherlands has been asked to change this treaty provision on the grounds that it is incompatible with EU law.
As the LOB provision is widely used in the US treaty network, as well as many other countries, the impact of this recent development may expand exponentially with global ramifications. Accordingly, this pursuit should be closely followed.
Deloitte’s summary is provided for reference:
OECD’s latest draft on Action 6 of the BEPS Action Plan (Prevent Treaty Abuse) addresses previous questions raised and comments received, in addition to some new proposals. Part I of the draft presents the alternative “Simplified” Limitation on Benefits (LOB) Rule, while Part II outlines the previous 20 questions for follow-up work, including changes to domestic law made after the conclusion of a treaty.
Succinct comments are to be submitted by 17 June 2015. A link to the draft is provided:
The discussion draft is very comprehensive and principle based, including additional examples from its previous draft.
However, it is worth noting that the OECD would not require an approval process for application of the subjective principal purposes test (PPT) (i.e. the state may “wish” to apply such process) and that the PPT would be included in the arbitration mechanism of paragraph 5 of Article 25, although this issue should also be discussed as part of the work on Action 14 (Make dispute resolution mechanisms more effective). This latter point would seem to be area for additional confirmation in providing comments to avoid double taxation on issues that are inherently subjective.
The draft will provide important precedent in obtaining treaty relief in a post-BEPS era, thus the proposals should be reviewed in detail, with consideration to provide succinct comments.
The US Dept. of Treasury has released drafts of its proposed revisions to the US model income tax convention, for which it has requested comments. The new Model treaty will serve as a template for future US treaties and protocols. A PwC summary and US Treasury press release, which further reference the proposed changes, are included for reference: http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/tax-services/publications/insights/assets/pwc-us-treasury-proposes-changes-us-model-income-tax-convention.pdf http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl10057.aspx Key observations:
- Exempt permanent establishment (PE) rule that will also apply to US branches
- Denial of treaty benefits re: articles 11 (Interest), 12 (Royalties), and 21 (Other income) for recipients in a “special tax regime.” There are several exceptions applicable to the general rule.
- Disallowance of treaty benefits for payments of dividends, interest, royalties and other income for 10 years after a company expatriates.
- Changes to Limitation on Benefits (LOB) article: (i) New derivative benefits test which is inclusive of a base erosion test, (ii) a base erosion test to the subsidiary of a public company requirement, (iii) changes to base erosion requirements in the public company test, ownership base erosion test and derivative benefits test, and (iv) a change to the discretionary grant of relief clause inclusive of a principal purpose test.
- Partial termination provisions for subsequent law changes exempting, or reducing the tax rate to less than 15% for dividends, interest, royalties and other income.
These significant changes represent acknowledgment of the OECD BEPS impact and its impact on the world’s tax treaties that will directly impact the taxation of a multinational company’s global structure. Accordingly, these changes are required reading for international tax practitioners, as the rest of the world will be following along in measuring its respective treaties and new protocols. BEPS Action 6, Preventing treaty abuse, recognized the US Model Treaty’s LOB article, with an additional inclusion for a derivative benefits test. The US proposal has now addressed that intent.
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:
- 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 OECD has published a public discussion draft on its BEPS Action Item 6: Preventing Treaty Abuse. Comments by interested parties are due by 9 January 2015. A link to the draft is attached for reference:
Some key points:
- Comments are invited on the Limitation of Benefits (LOB) clause re: interaction with Competent Authority (CA) relief
- Alternative LOB provision for EU countries?
- “Active business” test of the LOB: clarification/application
- Process for approval to apply the “Principal Purpose” test for disallowing treaty benefits
- Interaction of domestic and treaty anti-abuse rules
This Action item is very comprehensive and will also serve as a blueprint for some countries designing unilateral legislation. Accordingly, the LOB and Principal Purpose tests, among other complex provisions in the draft, should be reviewed to convey its terms succinctly and simply to others not well versed in the technical intricacies to promote further understanding and practical application.