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 EU Anti-Tax Avoidance Package included a Commission recommendation on the implementation of measures against tax treaty abuse. Specifically, this statement was issued to address artificial avoidance of permanent establishment status as stated in BEPS Action 7 Action Plan.
Re: tax treaties of Member States that include a “principal purpose test” (PPT) based general anti-avoidance rule, the following modification is encouraged to be inserted:
“Notwithstanding the other provisions of this Convention, a benefit under this Convention shall not be granted in respect of an item of income or capita l if it is reasonable to conclude, having regard to all relevant facts and circumstances, that obtaining that benefit was one of the principal purposes of any arrangement or transaction that resulted directly or indirectly in that benefit, unless it is established that it reflects a genuine economic activity or that granting that benefit in these circumstances would be in accordance with the object and purpose of the relevant provisions of this Convention.”
This subjective phrase, that applies notwithstanding other provisions of the Convention, has already been used in new treaties and will proliferate as new treaties are drafted by a Member State, not necessarily with another Member State. Thereby, it is important to draft supporting documentation that will provide support for transactions against which it is aimed. This phrase will elicit additional appeals and court cases as to its meaning and / or intent for which non-consistent answers will be provided.
Questions that may be asked re: this statement:
- Who is concluding on the reasonableness? What facts are used for such determination?
- Which facts and circumstances are relevant?
- What are all of the principal purposes of the arrangement or transaction?
- How is a benefit measured, directly or indirectly?
- What is a genuine, vs. non-genuine, economic activity?
- How do you determine if such arrangement is in accordance with the object and purpose of the “relevant provisions” of the Convention?
The phrase is purposefully vague, and thereby subject to inconsistent interpretation.
It is hopeful that tax administrations will use this statement wisely to address egregious transactions rather than ordinary business transactions for which the clear intent was not an evasion of tax. This subjectivity will be important to monitor going forward to further understand subjective enforcement interpretations around the world.
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:
Click to access revised-discussion-draft-beps-action-6-prevent-treaty-abuse.pdf
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.