Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Posts tagged ‘OECD BEPS Action Plan’

UN Tax Workshop, including BEPS Subcommittee

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.

Poland taxes: CFC’s, Thin capitalization, participation exemption

The Polish President signed a tax bill, effective 1/1/2015 with some major tax reforms.

The changes include:

  • New Controlled Foreign Corp. (CFC) tax regime
  • Change in debt-to-equity ratio from 3:1 to 1:1, some planning opportunities available before year-end
  • Participation regime not applicable  for dividends that provided a deduction for the payor

EY’s Global Tax Alert provides a summary of the upcoming changes attached for reference:

Executive summary
On 16 September 2014, the Polish President signed a tax bill, approved by the Parliament on 29 August 2014, with several changes to the corporate tax rules. The new measures include the introduction of CFC (controlled foreign corporation) rules and much broader thin capitalization restrictions. Also, under the new measures, the participation exemption regime will not be applicable to taxpayers receiving dividends that gave rise to a deduction from the income (or other decrease in the taxable base or tax) of the distributing company. Furthermore, the new measures make the transfer pricing documentation requirements applicable to joint ventures and partnerships.

International groups may be affected by these changes to the Polish tax system that enter into force on 1 January 2015. Certain steps undertaken early enough may mitigate the impact of the changes.

Detailed discussion
Thin capitalization
New restrictions will limit the deductibility of interest on a much broader range of loans (generally on all intra-group financing). Currently only loans from a direct shareholder and/or direct sister company are subject to thin capitalization restrictions. However, loans granted by the end of 2014 may, under certain conditions, remain subject to the current liberal regulations.

The amended provisions introduce a 1:1 debt-to-equity ratio (currently 3:1) and a new definition of “equity.” In addition, taxpayers will have the option to use a new alternative thin cap calculation method based on a reference rate of the National Bank of Poland and the value of assets capped at a percentage of EBIT.

Taxpayers considering new debt placements may want to finalize plans by the end of 2014 to fall under the current rules. Taxpayers should make projections in order to be ready to choose the optimal calculation method (based on debt-to-equity ratio or the new one based on assets) before statutory deadlines.

CFC rules
2015 will witness an unprecedented change to the Polish tax system with the introduction of the CFC regime. The CFC regime will result in taxation of foreign companies’ income at the level of their direct or indirect Polish shareholders.

Depending on the date when the new law is published and on the tax year of the CFC, income of the CFC may be taxed shortly after the provisions enter into force.

Multinational groups should assess the impact of the CFC regime on their Polish companies with foreign subsidiaries and, if required, decide on steps to be taken to e.g., qualify for exemptions.

Other changes
In relation to the current legislation, it should be noted that General Anti Avoidance Regulations are planned to be introduced in Poland as of 1 January 2016.

Best Practice observation: How do these rules, as well as those from all other countries, get filtered and communicated timely to allow for planning in the current multinational tax structure.  As countries start to embark upon initiatives to change their domestic legislation, coupled with OECD BEPS Action Plan initiatives, there should be a proactive structure in place to review planning strategies and identify new risks in the global structure.

OECD BEPS 2014 Deliverables

The OECD has published its 2014 deliverables, referenced at the following link:

http://www.oecd.org/ctp/beps-2014-deliverables.htm

I would encourage all interested parties to thoroughly review the provisions, as well as listen to others as they comment on these significant proposals.

Note that the proposals are not yet enacted into law, which is a focus of the action to provide a multilateral instrument to help facilitate that objective.

Best Practice TP article: TP documentation: time for a strategy refresh

I have attached for reference my first published article, addressing transfer pricing documentation: time for a strategy refresh.

The article was published by Accountancy Magazine.  A reference to the article is included for reference:

https://www.accountancylive.com/transfer-pricing-documentation-time-strategy-refresh

The article addresses the OECD BEPS proposals, including country-by-country reporting, with Best Practice ideas included for Action Plan items.

Additionally, insights into processes for developing a comprehensive plan for revised TP documentation are discussed.

Finally, the hot topics of General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR), local tax disclosures and tax policy statements are addressed for further insight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global tax policy in 2014: EY publication

Ernst & Young (EY) has published a very informative study, based on a survey of 830 executives in 25 markets.  The second section of the publication includes analyses of tax outlooks for 38 countries, including BEPS actions.  The 38 countries highlighted in the publication include:

Australia / Austria / Belgium / Canada / Chile / China / Czech Republic / Denmark / Finland / France / Germany / Greece / Hong Kong / Hungary / India / Ireland / Italy / Jordan / Korea / Lithuania / Luxembourg / Malaysia / Mexico / Netherlands / New Zealand / Norway / Panama / Poland / Russia / Singapore / Slovakia / South Africa / Spain / Sweden / Switzerland / United Kingdom / United States / Venezuela

A link to the publication is included for reference:

Click to access EY-the-outlook-for-global-tax-policy-in-2014.pdf

The publication includes an introductory section highlighting tax rates and a 2014 tax policy outlook.  The outlook includes the following sections:

  • How countries are adjusting their corporate tax base in 2014
  • Incentives
  • Withholding taxes
  • Transfer pricing changes
  • Interest / Business expense deductibility
  • Changes to tax treatment of losses
  • Changes to CFC rules / thin capitalization

The second section analyzes 38 separate countries, addressing the following topics:

  • Tax rates
  • 2014 tax policy outlook:
    • Key drivers of tax policy changes
    • Fiscal consolidation / stimulus
    • Tax policy outlook for 2014, including political landscape, current tax policy and administrative leaders, key tax policy changes in 2013, country position on OECD BEPS Action Plan, pending tax proposals and consultations opened / closed.

This publication is especially valuable in country outlooks, including the OECD BEPS Action Plan proposals, and should be consulted to develop continued awareness of current and future trends in international taxation.

 

Treaty overrides: India’s High Court comments

The PwC News Alert, issued today, highlights statements of India’s High Court re: treaty override situations in a recent decision of Vodafone South Ltd.  These statements are significant in determining whether retrospective amendments can override treaty benefits.  The link to the Alert is attached for reference:

Click to access pwc_news_alert_14_april_2014__vodafone_south_ltd.pdf

Important observations noted in the Alert:

  • Sovereign power extends to “breaking” a tax treaty.
  • Unilateral cancellation of a tax treaty through an amendment to domestic law, subsequent to conclusion of a tax treaty, is a recognized sovereign power.
  • If , after the tax treaty came into force, an Act of Parliament was passed which contained a provision contrary to the tax treaty, the scope and effect of the legislation could not be curtailed by the tax treaty.
  • India is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Vienna Convention), although such principles have previously been relied on by several Indian courts as such concepts have been accepted as a source of international law.

The concept of treaty override is becoming a very significant issue, evidenced by various GAAR provisions that have been enacted in domestic law that override general tax treaty provisions.  Additionally, recently released OECD draft on BEPS Action Plan 2 (22 March 2014 post) highlights the complex interplay of GAAR provisions with primary and linking mechanism proposals set forth to ensure consistency and uniformity.

In summary, the concepts of the Vienna Convention, combined with current events and complexities re: tax treaty override, merit special attention as tax audits become more complex leading to costly and lengthy appeals, while legislated issues become more subjective all leading to additional cases of double taxation and controversies based on uncertainties of international tax law.

 

OECD: Cbc reporting update

The OECD has provided further observations on its country-by-country information template, based on the premise such information is a useful guide in the risk assessment of transfer pricing for relevant jurisdictions.  KPMG has provided a summary of the latest notes by OECD on this topic:

http://www.kpmg.com/Global/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/taxnewsflash/Pages/2014-1/oecd-update-on-transfer-pricing-documentation-country-by-country-reporting.aspx

As this important initiative develops into final form, additional questions that may be asked include:

  • Will this information only be provided to tax authorities both currently and in the future, versus subject to public disclosure?  Will the OECD and/or separate countries’ provide for such legal assurance?
  • Should tax authorities be requested to share results of a risk assessment, based on this data, with the taxpayer prior to any assessments to ensure facts are aligned  to promote efficiencies upon assessment, and potentially in domestic or treaty based appeals?  A possible Best Practice for adoption?
  • How will relevance of the global information impact discussions and determinations in the relevant jurisdiction upon audit?
  • Is a post-adoption survey planned to compare expectations with actual results, providing flexibility for ongoing changes as a risk assessment tool?
  • To the extent that a country has adopted, or will adopt, different rules for global reporting, will the rules prescribed by OECD override, or supplement, domestic law?  What (legal) mechanisms will be put in place to align expectations for domestic and international rules?
  • What alignment is planned for countries utilizing the UN Model Convention?
  • Will this tool be used differently for co-operative compliance engagements and/or joint audits?

Many other questions should be carefully considered, looking at both immediate issues for implementation and long-term effects for taxpayers and tax administrations.

 

 

TEI’s comments: UN TP Manual, Competent Authority & APA’s

TEI has published comments addressing the UN Practical Manual on Transfer Pricing for Developing Countries, in addition to US IRS Notices for revisions to Revenue Procedures setting forth new policies to implement the Competent Authority (CA) and Advance Pricing Agreement (APA) procedures.  References to TEI’s submissions are included for reference:

UN TP Manual key comments:

Click to access TEI%20Comments%20on%20UN%20Transfer%20Pricing%20Manual%20March%202014.pdf

  • Harmonize UN and OECD Transfer Pricing (TP) guidelines to reduce cross-border disputes
  • Risk assessment should be the primary focus, with most multinationals (MNE’s) “low-risk” status due to global and consistent TP policies and documentation
  • First step of tax authorities should be to address overall business, group TP policy and risk control framework
  • Domestic legislation defeats the purpose of a standard international TP guideline
  • Recharacterization by tax authorities should only be permitted in clear cases of abuse
  • TP documentation flexibility must be preserved
  • Burden of proof should reside with tax authorities, with penalty protection granted to taxpayer upon providing sufficient TP documentation
  • Intangible discussion precedes work of the OECD on revision of its Chapter VI Guidelines, reducing likelihood of harmonization
  • Intra-group services and management fees: Consistency of UN and OECD approaches for clarity, in addition to uniform safe harbors
  • TP documentation: “Less is more” approach to assess risk, materiality consideration on a group and country level, global and regional comparables, English language
  • Chapter 10 policy objectives are not aligned with the UN TP Manual and the arm’s-length principle

US Competent Authority key comments to Notice 2013-78 re: revisions to Revenue Procedure:

Click to access TEI%20Comments%20on%20Notice%202013-78%20Revised%20CA%20Revenue%20Procedure%20-%20FINAL%20to%20IRS%20Mar%2010%202014.pdf

  • Opening the CA process to taxpayer initiated adjustments is welcome
  • A new procedure whereby an informal consultation is arranged with taxpayers to discuss its exhaustion of remedies to reduce its foreign tax before claiming a US Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) should not be compulsory.  The timeliness of such advice is also of concern.
  • CA initiated MAP cases and required inclusion of MAP issues that are not a part of the taxpayer’s request for assistance raises many questions.
  • Provision of all information to both CA’s is over broad and may not be mutually relevant.
  • US CA assistance may be denied if a foreign initiated adjustment is agreed to without consulting the US CA: this raises resource and timeliness issues and should also have no impact upon  the merits for claiming a US FTC.

US APA key comments to Notice 2013-79 re: revisions to Revenue Procedure

Click to access TEI%20Comments%20on%20Notice%202013-79%20Revised%20APA%20Revenue%20Procedure%20-%20FINAL%20to%20IRS%20Mar%2010%202014.pdf

  • The Notice reflects prior creation of the Advance Pricing and Mutual Agreement (APMA) program
  • Details are set forth regarding the “pre-filing” process
  • Appendix is included stating the required materials to be submitted for inclusion
  • Rules are provided for when the IRS may cancel or revoke a completed APA
  • Inapplicable information should not be submitted, but a “suitable explanation” why the information is not relevant must be provided
  • The suggested changes will increase information required for application, and time required for APA completion, thereby reducing the likelihood that taxpayers will proceed with an APA request

 

In alignment with the OECD’s BEPS proposals, unilateral country legislation including General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR), and the UN TP Manual principles for developing countries, tax controversies are expected to increase significantly.  Tremendous pressure will be placed on CA assistance around the world, and possibilities for new APA ‘s will be reviewed to reduce inherent uncertainty.

Accordingly, all multinationals and interested parties should read TEI’s excellent comments to better understand the issues to be confronted, with suggestions for thoughtful and practical ideas to achieve mutual objectives for taxpayers and tax authorities around the world.

OECD BEPS Action 2 Drafts / Vienna Convention

 

The OECD released discussion drafts on Action 2, re: hybrid mismatch arrangements, of its BEPS Action Plan.  A copy of the press release, therein referencing the documents, is attached for reference:
Numerous comments should  be received in response to the discussion proposals, however I do want to also draw attention to the statements and purpose of the Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties, also referenced herein:
OECD Press release excerpt:

19/03/2014 – Public comments are invited on two discussion drafts on Action Item 2 of the BEPS Action Plan.

In July 2013, the OECD published its Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. The Action Plan identifies 15 actions to address BEPS in a comprehensive manner and sets deadlines to implement these actions.

Action 2 of the BEPS Action Plan calls for the development of model treaty provisions and recommendations for the design of domestic rules to neutralise the effect of hybrid mismatch arrangements:

ACTION 2

Neutralise the effects of hybrid mismatch arrangements

Develop model treaty provisions and recommendations regarding the design of domestic rules to neutralise the effect (e.g. double non-taxation, double deduction, long-term deferral) of hybrid instruments and entities. This may include: (i) changes to the OECD Model Tax Convention to ensure that hybrid instruments and entities (as well as dual resident entities) are not used to obtain the benefits of treaties unduly; (ii) domestic law provisions that prevent exemption or non-recognition for payments that are deductible by the payor; (iii) domestic law provisions that deny a deduction for a payment that is not includible in income by the recipient (and is not subject to taxation under controlled foreign company (CFC) or similar rules); (iv) domestic law provisions that deny a deduction for a payment that is also deductible in another jurisdiction; and (v) where necessary, guidance on co-ordination or tie-breaker rules if more than one country seeks to apply such rules to a transaction or structure. Special attention should be given to the interaction between possible changes to domestic law and the provisions of the OECD Model Tax Convention. This work will be co-ordinated with the work on interest expense deduction limitations, the work on CFC rules, and the work on treaty shopping.

The Action Plan calls for this work to be concluded by September 2014. In connection with this work the Committee on Fiscal Affairs (CFA) has now released two consultation documents on Action Item 2 as a single proposal for public consultation.

The first discussion draft (Neutralise the effects of Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements – Recommendations for Domestic Laws) sets out recommendations for domestic rules to neutralise the effect of hybrid mismatch arrangements and the second discussion draft (Neutralise the effects of Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements – Treaty Aspects of the Work on Action 2 of the BEPS Action Plan) discusses the impact of the OECD Model Convention on those rules and sets out recommendations for further changes to the Convention to clarify the treatment of hybrid entities. The recommendations set out in these discussion drafts do not represent the consensus views of the CFA or its subsidiary bodies but rather are intended to provide stakeholders with substantive proposals for analysis and comment.

Comments on these documents should be submitted electronically (in word format) before 5.00 pm on 2 May 2014 (no extension will be granted).  It is the policy of the OECD to publish all responses (including the names of responders) on the OECD website.

Observations:

The Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties has been attached as a timely reference to the role of treaties and the interplay of domestic law and treaty provisions.  It is worthy to readdress these historic provisions as contrasted to the OECD’s BEPS proposals, especially with respect to domestic law override provisions of tax treaties.

The subject of General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) are also of paramount significance, due to the layers of anti-avoidance and anti-abuse rules proposed from a domestic law and / or a tax treaty perspective.  The GAAR provisions are in addition to specific anti-avoidance rules (SAAR) and targeted anti-avoidance rules (TAAR) rules that are already effected into local legislation.  The OECD documents prescribe primary and linking mechanisms between domestic GAAR and Treaty GAAR provisions to ensure consistency and uniformity.  However, such rules should consider the additional uncertainty that the “automatic” rules may generate.

The interplay, and priority, of domestic law and treaty provisions are converging quickly.  As a result, there will be additional controversies as to whether a taxpayer can utilize a treaty to avoid double taxation, and the different interpretations that tax authorities may have interpreting the complex rules.

The OECD proposals are significant in international tax policy and the application of tax treaties vs. domestic law, thereby all interested parties should submit thoughtful and practical comments to the OECD within the prescribed timeline for comment.

OECD: BEPS Treaty Abuse proposal released for comment

The OECD invites public comments with respect to Action 6 (Prevent Treaty Abuse) of the BEPS Action Plan.

A summary of the OECD press release, the OECD proposal and Best Practice comments are included herein for reference:

Click to access treaty-abuse-discussion-draft-march-2014.pdf

The Action Plan identifies treaty abuse, and in particular treaty shopping, as one of the most important sources of BEPS concerns. Action 6 (Prevent Treaty Abuse) reads as follows:

Action 6 

Prevent treaty abuse

Develop model treaty provisions and recommendations regarding the design of domestic rules to prevent the granting of treaty benefits in inappropriate circumstances. Work will also be done to clarify that tax treaties are not intended to be used to generate double non-taxation and to identify the tax policy considerations that, in general, countries should consider before deciding to enter into a tax treaty with another country. The work will be co-ordinated with the work on hybrids.

The Action Plan also provided that “[t]he OECD’s work on the different items of the Action Plan will continue to include a transparent and inclusive consultation process” and that all stakeholders such as business (in particular BIAC), non-governmental organisations, think tanks, and academia would be consulted.

As part of that consultation process, interested parties are invited to send comments on this discussion draft, which includes the preliminary results of the work carried out in the three different areas identified in Action 6:

A. Develop model treaty provisions and recommendations regarding the design of domestic rules to prevent the granting of treaty benefits in inappropriate circumstances.

B. Clarify that tax treaties are not intended to be used to generate double non-taxation.

C. Identify the tax policy considerations that, in general, countries should consider before deciding to enter into a tax treaty with another country.

These comments should be sent on 9 April 2014 at the latest (no extension will be granted). The comments received by that date will be examined by the Focus Group at a meeting that will be held on the following week.

Public Consultation:

Persons and organisations who intend to send comments on this discussion draft are invited to indicate as soon as possible, and  by 3 April at the latest, whether they wish to speak in support of their comments at a public consultation meeting on Action 6 (Prevent Treaty Abuse), which is scheduled to be held in Paris at the OECD Conference Centre on 14-15 April 2014. Persons selected as speakers will be informed by email by 4 April at the latest.

This meeting will also be broadcast live on the internet and can be accessed on line. No advance registration is required for this internet access.

General observations of proposal:

The OECD proposal provides a three-pronged approach:

  • Treaty statement re: anti-avoidance rule and treaty shopping opportunities
  • Specific anti-abuse rule based on Limitation of Benefit (LOB) provisions
  • General anti-abuse rule

Other OECD recommendations include comments re: Permanent Establishment (PE), tax policy, and broad General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) interpretation (including allowance of domestic GAAR provisions notwithstanding the relevant double tax treaty).  The GAAR proposal provides that obtaining a treaty benefit was one of the main purposes of any arrangement or transaction that resulted directly or indirectly in that benefit.  Note this GAAR proposal supplements the LOB provisions.

Proposals are also introduced to address tax avoidance risks via changes to domestic laws.  Such risks include thin capitalization, dual residence, arbitrage transactions (including timing differences), and transfer mispricing.  Intentions of the UN Model Convention are also introduced for analogous interpretation.  

The proposal notes that treaties should not prevent application of domestic law provisions that would prevent transactions re: CFC rules and thin capitalization.

Finally, the OECD proposal indicates that the treaty should clearly state that prevention of tax evasion and tax avoidance is a purpose of the tax treaties.

The proposal, in alignment with the overall OECD BEPS proposals, is targeted at avoidance of double non-taxation, without a balanced commentary and measures addressing the risk of double taxation.  Additionally, the terms “tax evasion” and “tax avoidance” are used in tandem within the proposal, although such terms are literally construed as having significantly two separate meanings and relative intent.  Finally, the allowance of domestic GAAR provisions in addition to, or in lieu of, treaty provisions and EU Parent-Subsidiary guidelines will promote additional uncertainty re: subjective interpretations of broad proposals that will ultimately lead to increased tax disputes, double taxation and the loss of multilateral symmetry.

This proposal has tremendous significance in the transfer pricing arena that must be seriously considered and reviewed in its entirety, including the possibility for early comment to ensure OECD consideration.

Australia BEPS: Not waiting for OECD

KPMG has provided an excellent overview of Australia’s unilateral efforts to carry out OECD’s proposals.

http://www.kpmg.com/Global/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/taxnewsflash/Pages/2014-1/australia-effects-of-documentation-country-by-country-reporting-for-australian-taxpayers.aspx

Some key questions include:

  • From a OECD perspective, Would penalties be applicable when a Country-by-Country (CbC) template is not completed, if such information is part of the Transfer Pricing Master File?
  • The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has already started its process to collect similar information as the CbC template, with 125 review notification letters to be sent to taxpayers, requesting detailed international data and a presentation to the ATO.
  • The ATO review would include details of global corporate value chains, including sales, profits, and taxes paid in every jurisdiction, payments to / from low tax jurisdictions, e-commerce and tax risk governance.  The ATO should ensure that confidential information is only shared with other tax authorities in alignment with confidentiality protocols judicially established in each respective jurisdiction.  Additionally, it will be interesting to note how such information is defined, or not defined, by the ATO to ensure information that is collected from taxpayers will be consistent for analyses.

These actions bring forth additional questions re: the OECD proposals, the ATO’s response and advance warnings to taxpayers of how such information will be collected and provided in advance of the OECD’s timelines.  To the extent procedures are enacted by taxpayers to collect such data, while the OECD and other tax authorities provide different rules, definitions and timelines, it will substantially increase time and cost by multinationals to respond to multiple initiatives.

Another point of consideration is the symmetry of ATO’s CbC request with that of the OECD: Will the ATO change their rules to coincide with that of the OECD when such rules are issued, and will the separate country’s legislation trump / override the OECD’s final recommendations?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada’s BEPS initiative, with Treaty Shopping: 2014 Federal Budget

Details of Canada’s initiative to develop its own Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) action plan are outlined in its 2014 Federal Budget, with a link to KPMG’s comments on the Budget referenced herein.

Click to access tnfc1408.pdf

Highlights of the tax initiatives include proposals to expand existing anti-avoidance rules for thin capitalization, and a back-to-back loan provision.  Additionally, the Budget has requested comments, by June 2014, to the following questions for a framework to develop its own BEPS Action Plan:

  • What are the impacts of international tax planning by multinationals on other participants in the Canadian economy?
  • Which of the international corporate income and sales tax issues identified in the OECD BEPS Action Plan should be considered the highest priorities for examination and potential action by the government?
  • Are there other corporate income tax or sales tax issues related to improving international tax integrity that should be of concern to the government?
  • What considerations should guide the government in determining the appropriate approach to take in responding to the issues identified?
  • Would concerns about maintaining Canada’s competitive tax system are alleviated by coordinated multilateral implementation of base protection measures?
  • What actions should  the government take to ensure the effective collection of sales tax on e-commerce sales to Canadian residents by foreign vendors?

The Budget also addressed the treaty shopping consultation paper released in August 2013, which TEI provided comments thereto (refer to 14 January 2014 post).  The government’s position is that  a domestic law re: treaty shopping is preferable to a treaty-based approach.  This proposed rule would be included in Canada’s Income Tax Convention Interpretation Act, thus applicable to all of Canada’s treaties.  Comments on this position are to be submitted within 60 days.  General provisions of this rule are summarized for reference, with a separate link provided for KPMG’s Submission on Canada’s Consultation on Treaty Shopping in December 2013 :

Click to access kpmg-submission-to-treaty-shopping-consultation.pdf

  • The domestic treaty-shopping rule is a “general purpose” provision, versus a “limitation on benefits” approach.
  • A tax treaty benefit is denied for relevant treaty income if it is reasonable to conclude that one of the main purposes for undertaking a transaction, or a transaction that is part of a series of transactions or events, that results in the benefit was for the person to obtain such benefit.
  • It relies on the conduit presumption for tax treaty benefits, absent proof to the contrary.  Safe harbour presumptions are provided for this test.

With the OECD working aggressively to finish the BEPS Action Plan items timely, including the recent draft of a Country-by-Country Reporting template for comment, it is hoped that new international principles and documentation standards being developed are not adopted earlier, and unilaterally, by countries each changing such rules based on its sole interpretation and discretion, which later are effected into local legislation.

Most importantly, multinationals and other interested parties should monitor BEPS related provisions in countries proposing separate legislation, in addition to that proposed by the OECD.  To the extent the OECD’s principles differ from separate country legislation, international tax challenges will significantly increase, with additional likelihood of double taxation.

Canadian Treaty Shopping: TEI comments

The Tax Executives Institute (TEI) has submitted comments in response to Canada’s treaty shopping proposals.  TEI’s comments are referenced herein:

Click to access Treaty_Shopping_in_Canada_TEI_submission.pdf

Canada proposes that if all of the following circumstances exist, it would be justified in denying treaty benefits due to the lack of economic substance, and a bona fide purpose, and the ultimate beneficiaries are third-country residents not entitled to direct benefits from the treaty.  Such circumstances include all of the following:

  • A tax treaty resident uses the tax treaty to obtain a reduction of Canadian tax otherwise payable on Canadian source income,
  • The intermediary entity is owned or controlled mainly by residents of another country which are not entitled to at least the same treaty benefits,
  • The intermediary entity pays no or low taxes in its country on the item of income earned in Canada, and
  • The intermediary entity does not carry on real and substantial business activities, other than managing investment income) in its country.

TEI also provides general comments stating the following concepts:

  • Treaty Limitation on Benefit (LOB) Provisions should be the favored approach rather than domestic legislation
  • Unilateral Approach should be eschewed in favor of a multilateral approach
  • Evidence of the scope and degree of treaty abuse in Canada is inconclusive

TEI’s comments also addressed the specific questions raised in the consultation paper of 14 August, 2013:

  1. Advantages and disadvantages of a domestic law approach, a treaty based approach, or a combination of both
  2. Merits of OECD approaches to treaty shopping, and other possible approaches re: treaty shopping
  3. Preference for a general, versus a specific and objective approach; achieving balance between effectiveness, certainty, simplicity, and administration
  4. Views on a domestic law general purpose test and its effectiveness in preventing treaty shopping and achieving taxpayer certainty
  5. Details for preference of a specific approach
  6. Comments addressing applicability of a domestic anti-treaty shopping rule in addition to a comprehensive anti-treaty shopping rule

TEI’s comments are well written, posing arguments for all multinationals to consider for Canada, and in the broader context of domestic general anti-avoidance rules (GAAR), vs. treaty based benefits, and the impetus behind countries to adopt unilateral domestic rules prior to dates in the OECD BEPS Action Plan for issues that should be internationally consistent.  For reference, prior posts have addressed GAAR provisions advocated by several countries that can be accessed for future insight.

BEPS Action item 14: OECD Dispute Resolution Focus Group

OECD Working Party 1 has formed a Dispute Resolution Focus Group to address BEPS Action Plan item 14, copied herein for reference.

Focus areas of WP 1:

  • Access to Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP)
  • Arbitration
  • Multilateral MAPs & APAs
  • Adjustment issues, including timing for corresponding adjustments, self-initiated adjustments, and secondary adjustments
  • Interest & Penalties
  • Hybrid Entities
  • Legal status of a mutual agreement

In the US, IRS has also issued Notice 2013-78 detailing a proposed Rev. Procedure on US Competent Authority procedures, including an emphasis on informal consultation for US Foreign Tax Credit determinations.

Click to access n-13-78.pdf

OECD BEPS ACTION 14

Make dispute resolution mechanisms more effective

Develop solutions to address obstacles that prevent countries from solving treaty-related disputes under MAP, including the absence of arbitration provisions in most treaties and the fact that access to MAP and arbitration may be denied in certain cases.

(iv) From agreed policies to tax rules: the need for a swift implementation of the measures

There is a need to consider innovative ways to implement the measures resulting from the work on the BEPS Action Plan. The delivery of the actions included in the Action Plan on BEPS will result in a number of outputs.

Some actions will likely result in recommendations regarding domestic law provisions, as well as in changes to the Commentary to the OECD Model Tax Convention and the Transfer Pricing Guidelines. Other actions will likely result in changes to the OECD Model Tax Convention. This is for example the case for the introduction of an anti-treaty abuse provision, changes to the definition of permanent establishment, changes to transfer pricing provisions and the introduction of treaty provisions in relation to hybrid mismatch arrangements.

Changes to the OECD Model Tax Convention are not directly effective without amendments to bilateral tax treaties. If undertaken on a purely treaty-by-treaty basis, the sheer number of treaties in effect may make such a process very lengthy, the more so where countries embark on comprehensive renegotiations of their bilateral tax treaties. A multilateral instrument to amend bilateral treaties is a promising way forward in this respect.

This new initiative highlights innovative and forward thinking by the OECD.

Best Practice thoughts include:

  • Using MAP as a roll-forward mechanism to an APA to cover additional years beyond the MAP request
  • Using simultaneous appeals and Competent Authority relief provisions

These developments merit additional attention to self-initiated adjustments, Best Practices to address secondary / corresponding adjustments and creative thinking to resolve bilateral / multilateral disputes.

Belgium renews transfer pricing emphasis

The Belgian tax authorities (BTA) are accelerating their focus on transfer pricing ahead of the OECD’s recommendations from its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (“BEPS”) Action Plan.  The transfer pricing initiatives are highlighted herein for reference and are discussed in the attached link from PwC.

http://www.publications.pwc.com/DisplayFile.aspx?Attachmentid=7092&Mailinstanceid=28847

Summary of initiatives:

  • Additional transfer pricing resources, with 30 individuals assigned to transfer pricing by year-end 2013.
  • A targeted action plan was started in January 2013, selecting 230 companies for a transfer pricing audit.
  • Determine taxpayer selection via risk assessment by the transfer pricing audit team, leveraging on information exchange with foreign tax authorities.  Companies with significant loss carry-overs and/or volatile profit margins will reflect a high risk rating.
  • The Belgian Tax Authority’s Special Investigation Tax team, re: fiscal fraud, and its transfer pricing audit team will form a collaborative centre of excellence to collect and share transfer pricing knowledge, including sharing respective databases.
  • An extension of the 3 year statute of limitations is envisaged.

As evidenced by the Belgian initiatives, the focus on transfer pricing will intensify as information initiatives are being developed within a jurisdiction in addition to exchange of tax information with other tax administrations.  These initiatives dictate increased emphasis on transfer pricing documentation for risk assessment and issue consistency in response to audits as tax information is shared.

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