Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Posts tagged ‘OECD Model Convention’

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:

http://www.oecd.org/ctp/treaties/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.

PE Best Practices Risk Review: BEPS Action Plan, OECD & UN Model Conventions

A Permanent Establishment (PE) risk review is an integral component of a global Tax Risk Framework, increasing in importance with issuance of the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plan.  The PE risk review should be monitored on a recurring basis against the backdrop of current and future developments.  The OECD and UN Model Conventions, with related Commentaries, provide insight into the development and current state of international PE guidelines.  The Conventions provide a useful framework to document specific PE criteria, and exceptions thereto, for risk analysis.

Action 6 (Prevent Treaty Abuse) of the BEPS Action Plan states that the definition of PE must be updated to prevent abuses.  Action 7 (Prevent the artificial avoidance of PE status) provides additional PE initiatives.  Actions 6 and 7 are designed to implemented by September 2014 and September 2015, respectively.  It will be paramount to note any changes in the “preparatory or auxiliary” exception.  A link to the BEPS Action Plan is hereby provided for reference:  http://www.oecd.org/ctp/BEPSActionPlan.pdf

Article 5 of the OECD Model Convention provides an outline for PE determination, including a “fixed place of business” standard, building site or installation project criteria, the “preparatory or auxiliary character” exception, dependent agent rules and further exceptions for activities of an independent agent and related entities.  The OECD Model Convention can be accessed at: http://www.oecd.org/tax/treaties/oecdmtcavailableproducts.htm

The OECD Commentaries are required reading to fully comprehend the history, and intended meaning, of Article 5.  Paragraph 2 of the Commentary provides an outline for determination of a “fixed place of business,” consisting of (i) the existence of a “place of business,” (ii) this place of business must be “fixed,” and (iii) the carrying on of the business through this fixed place of business.  Paragraph 24 of the Commentary states that , for application of the “fixed place of business” rule, “the decisive criterion is whether or not the activity of the fixed place of business in itself forms an essential and significant part of the activity of the enterprise as a whole.”  Paragraph 33 further provides that “the authority to conclude contracts must cover contracts relating to operations which constitute the business proper of the enterprise.”

The attached reference provides access to the UN Model Convention, Letter from India (13 Aug 2012), revised commentary on existing Article 5 and definition of PE for comprehensive understanding of the current PE Article.  The UN Model Convention contains an Introduction, Part One (including the Articles), and Part Two with Commentaries.  Paragraph 20 of the Commentaries states that the Commentaries on the Articles are regarded as part of the UN Model Convention, along with the Articles themselves.  Most importantly, Part Two cites differences of the UN and OECD Model Conventions, such as the UN inclusion of a services standard, exceeding 183 days in any 12-month period, that is not within the OECD guidelines.   http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/tax/unmodel.htm

Best Practice ideas for outlining PE risk include:

  • Documenting potential significant PE risks by legal entity, with specific reference to the PE attribute that attracts such risk, such as a fixed place of business or dependent agent.
  • Outlining availability of the preparatory or auxiliary character exception for potential risks.
  • Inclusion of objective and subjective evidence that provides defense for a potential PE determination, including wording from the applicable Convention and Commentaries.
  • Tools available to reduce double taxation upon determination of a PE, such as the Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP).

The above Best Practices should be combined with Best Practice ideas in former posts:

  • 14 April PE Risks: Best Practices for Awareness & Planning
  • 14 July: PwC PE survey: Trends & Challenges

PE determination is increasing in importance in today’s changing tax world, thus a detailed risk matrix is essential to determine current potential risk areas, as well as provide valuable information to assess proposed changes by the OECD and/or UN.

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