Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Posts tagged ‘tax avoidance’

New Zealand GAAR & Parliament’s intentions

Click to access is1301.pdf

The New Zealand Inland Revenue has issued an interpretation statement about a “tax avoidance arrangement.”  It sets out the approach the Commissioner will take to ss BG 1 and GA 1 of the Income Tax Act 2007. Section BG 1 is the general anti-avoidance provision in the Act. Section GA 1 enables the Commissioner to make an adjustment as a result of the application of s BG 1.

Section BG 1 voids a tax avoidance arrangement. An “arrangement” is defined widely and includes formal, legally enforceable contracts through to informal, unenforceable understandings.

The Commissioner’s approach to analyzing and applying s BG 1 is set out in a flow chart that outlines the sequence of analysis undertaken to establish whether an arrangement is a tax avoidance arrangement.  There are also examples illustrating how the approach is worked.

The Commissioner has a broad discretion as to the adjustments that can be made to counteract the tax advantage. There is no duty to describe precisely the actual basis for an adjustment. Further, the Commissioner may adjust the taxable income of any person affected by the arrangement.  A person can be affected by an arrangement whether they are a party to the arrangement and whether they are aware that they benefited from a tax avoidance arrangement.

However, s BG 1 may apply even if there is a specific anti-avoidance provision that accompanies the provisions used or circumvented.

This “interpretation” is very subjective, outlining the manner in which a taxpayer may envision Parliament’s intentions.  The examples  and flowchart may be helpful, and the interpretation is a “must read” for documentation of significant planning transactions in New Zealand.

Best Practices for GAAR developments are included in prior posts including: GAAR; Poland’s reintroduction (8 August), EY 2013 survey; GAAR history/trends & Tax Treaty vs. domestic law application (7 August), and UK Finance Act 2013; GAAR has arrived (21 July).

GAAR: Poland’s reintroduction

Click to access com_2012_722_en.pdf

Poland’s Minister of Finance plans to reintroduce a general anti-abuse rule (GAAR).  GAAR was in brief existence from 2003-2004, however the vague principles led to its removal.

The GAAR reintroduction follows the European Commission’s recommendation in December 2012, with a link attached for reference.  The European Commission Initiatives, Section 8, Recommendation on aggressive tax planning, states “The Commission also recommends a common GAAR.  This would help to ensure coherence and effectiveness in an area where Member State practice varies considerably.”

The GAAR proposal would apply to all types of taxes, with a 30% penalty of avoided tax via a “tax avoidance” transaction.  Appeal provisions are envisioned, in addition to advance rulings, although the time and expense for advance certainty may prove to be impractical.  A GAAR Council would provide an “expert” GAAR opinion that is not binding on the tax authorities.

Poland’s GAAR proposal should be analyzed for Best Practices, coupled with insights from prior posts: EY GAAR survey (7 August) and UK Finance Act 2013: GAAR has arrived (21 July).

It is hopeful that Poland will focus on learnings from the original GAAR introduction, as well as gain insight for Best Practices from other countries that have adopted a fair, and effective, GAAR.  It will be important to observe how the new GAAR legislation will correspond, or override, its double tax treaty provisions, and if the burden of proof will reside with the taxpayer and/or the tax authorities.

Most importantly, Best Practices should be continually reviewed, and revised,  for inclusion of new GAAR proposals and principles that are an integral part of the global Tax Risk Framework.  As stated in the European Commission report, each country’s practice is , and will continue to be, significantly different.  Robust documentation, in proactive tax risk management and planning memorandums, will provide directly relevant evidence to defend the subjective principles and guidelines of GAAR.

EY 2013 survey: GAAR history/trends & Tax Treaty vs. domestic law application

Click to access GAAR_rising_1%20Feb_2013.pdf

The EY report is invaluable in explaining the origins of a general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR), recent developments and future trends.  It provides a comprehensive background on GAAR, including results from a survey of 24 countries.  The February 2013 report looks at various countries developing GAAR, European Commission recommendations, how and when GAAR measures may be invoked, and what companies can do to mitigate risk in their tax risk management.  One of the many highlights in the report is the comparison of tax treaties and domestic application of GAAR.

Examples of EY insights include the following:

  • GAAR is defined as a set of broad principles-based rules within a country’s tax code designed to counteract the perceived avoidance of tax.
  • Tax law designed to deal with particular transactions of concern are termed as either specific anti-avoidance rules (SAARs) or targeted anti-avoidance rules (TAARs).
  • China had started 248 GAAR cases in 2011, concluding 207 cases with taxes collected of $3.8 billion.
  • Each country will have its own definition of an “abusive” or “avoidance” transaction that could be the target of its GAAR.
  • A tax benefit, transaction or arrangement within GAAR regimes are not unified, thus requiring a close review of each country’s definitions.
  • GAAR independent review panels are developing to oversee its application
  • Virtually all countries have multiple SAAR and/or TAAR provisions, although only a few have been abolished with introduction of a GAAR.
  • Inconsistency of GAAR application to arrangements that have already been subject to one or more SAAR measures in that jurisdiction, including India, China and Chile.
  • China SAT seems to be expanding its beneficial ownership test into an anti-treaty shopping/anti-abuse test, creating more uncertainty.
  • The use of GAAR also extends to benefits provided by tax treaties.  Tax treaties include bilateral anti-avoidance provisions, although several countries are applying unilateral anti-avoidance measures via interpretations of existing treaties or applying domestic law GAAR provisions to treaty benefits.
  • Countries are including in their tax treaties explicit authorization of the application of domestic law anti-avoidance provisions.
  • Approx. 12 of 24 countries surveyed allow their GAAR provisions to override existing tax treaties, unilaterally or applying domestic GAAR.
  • 30% of participants from a 2012 GAAR webcast responded that they do not address GAAR within their tax risk management approach.
  • Best Practice: Use a tax governance framework with documented processes for significant transaction sign-off.
  • Best Practice: New GAAR, SAAR and TAAR proposals should be monitored and factored into the tax life cycle of a multinational business
  • Best Practice: Transaction documents should state the intended purpose of the overall transaction, as well as each step therein.
  • Best Practice: Document alternative positions considered, demonstrating that the final position was the only reasonable position to obtain the commercial objectives, and that there were no transactional steps taken that were explicable only in a tax benefit context.
  • Best Practice: Obtain external advice on significant transactions, including opinions on GAAR.

Several tables include insightful observations, including:

  1. Table 1, GAAR introduction timeline in various countries
  2. Table 2, Burden of proof for each country; taxpayer, tax authority, or shared
  3. Table 3, Examples of 2011-12 tax treaties with reference to application of domestic anti-avoidance rules in the treaty context.
  4. Table 4, Countries providing GAAR rulings/clearances

Additionally, eight questions are posed for a Board to ask in relation to GAAR:

  1. Does the transaction have a valid commercial purpose?
  2. Is the transaction unique and complex?
  3. Is the tax benefit material to the financial statement?
  4. Could the transaction  be undertaken in a different manner, without attracting the potential application of GAAR?
  5. Has an opinion been obtained that the transaction will more likely than not withstand a GAAR challenge?
  6. Is the transaction defendable in the public eye?
  7. What is the corporation’s tax risk profile both globally and locally?
  8. How comfortable is the corporation with litigation if it is required to defend the transaction?

The Appendix of the report provides answers, for each of the 24 countries, to the following queries:

  • Does a GAAR exist?  If so, year of introduction and effective date
  • Can the GAAR be applied retrospectively?
  • Do specific anti-abuse measures exist?
  • Does your country have specific legislation in place related to the indirect transfer of assets?
  • What are the circumstances in which the GAAR can be invoked?
  • Is the burden of proof on the taxpayer or taxing authority?
  • Does your country have a GAAR panel?
  • What is the attitude of the tax authority toward invoking a GAAR?
  • Is a clearance/rulings mechanism available?
  • Can the GAAR override treaties when invoked?
  • What penalties may result from the GAAR being invoked?
  • Provide a summary of key judicial decisions involving GAAR or other anti-abuse legislation.
  • Are there any legislative proposals or open consultations that may affect the future composition of a GAAR?

Prior posts for additional reference:

  • 6 August; U.N. Committee of Experts to address the Manual for Negotiation of Bilateral Tax Treaties in October 2013
  • 21 July; UK Finance Act 2013: GAAR has arrived
  • 19 July; OECD BEPS Report & Action Plan
  • 4 July; Italy: New Co-operative Compliance Program
  • 29 June; Board Oversight and Responsibilities for Tax Risk Management
  • 13 June; OECD: A Framework for Co-operative Compliance
  • 5 June; GAAR: India & International Perspective

This report is a comprehensive review of GAAR and should form a foundation for planning significant transactions and adopting Best Practices within the global Tax Risk Framework.  For example, the eight questions to be posed by the Board could form Best Practices for planning significant transactions.  The report is a valuable tool for regional and global tax teams as the trend of GAAR, and understanding its subjective principles, is becoming more complex in today’s ever-changing tax environment.   

GAAR: India & International Perspective

Click to access pwc-white-paper-on-gaar.pdf

This publication provides a very interesting treatise on the development of GAAR in India, including an international perspective in Appendix B for the United States, S. Africa, Germany, China, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.

Importantly, the publication sets forth the OECD definitions for tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax planning for clarity.

This concept is increasing in importance, and should be followed closely with ideas of forming Best Practices re: tax planning, tax documentation, etc.

Ideas for Best Practice consideration:

  • Address the concepts of GAAR, formal or informal, as part of every tax planning exercise.
  • Ensure the global tax team is informed about the latest GAAR developments to increase awareness and responsibility.
  • Brainstorm ideas about GAAR, forming Best Practices for the organization.
  • Proactively ask for input from external advisors to gain different perspectives on this evolving topic.
  • Share your ideas with your peers from other organizations for a win-win result.

Tax Risks & Your Tax Organization: Best Practice Alignment

A proliferation of complex and significant tax risks are at the forefront of global news.  Aggressive tax planning, tax avoidance, tax evasion and fraud are terms used interchangeably to describe actions by multinationals.  Tax authorities, governments, G8, G20, among others, are discussing new ways to combat these perceived risks in the form of additional tax transparency, audit resources, new legislation, etc.  Similarly, tax organization structures should also be reviewed based on a tax risk management approach.  Ideas for developing Best Practices in tax risk management include the following:

  • List the top 5 tax risks; then align these risks with the tax personnel whose primary function it is to focus on such risks.
  • Are the top 5 risks being managed efficiently internally and / or externally?
  • Is each risk the top priority of one or more members of the tax team?
  • Is the strength of each tax member aligned with the respective risk?
  • Are you currently able to shift resources away from geographical / functional responsibilities to address current risks?
  • Are the tax members adding focus on these risks in addition to their other responsibilities?
  • Have specific strategies been developed to address the top tax risks, and champions assignable for each risk?
  • Are specific training courses being developed to better inform the tax team and the business of developing risks?
  • Are proactive discussions being held with senior management and the Board to ensure efficient tax risk management?
  • Is there a quarterly tax risk review to assess status and future actions?
  • Have internal procedures been reviewed, as well as mitigating controls, to address potential risk gaps?
  • Is the business aware of such risks on an ongoing basis?
  • Is this an opportunity to review tax resources to achieve the proper focus on the top tax risks?
  • Compare the current tax organizational structure with the tax risks; is it fit for purpose?
  • Review Best Practices for obtaining APA’s, entering mutual audit procedures such as CAP, horizontal monitoring, enhanced cooperation in today’s increased emphasis on mutuality and and tax transparency with tax authorities.
  • Who conducts audit meetings with tax authorities around the world?  Is this an opportunity to minimize risks at an early stage?  Are these individuals knowledgeable of the top tax risks?  Do you conduct training for audit meetings, including negotiation skills?
  • Is internal audit aligned to identify tax risk gaps in their routine audit reviews?
  • Is Global Mobility trained to identify potential PE risks?  Consider a review of their internal processes for assignments.
  • Who reviews Branch activities to ensure such activities do not inadvertently lead to a PE?
  • Review the Transfer Pricing documentation framework to address transfer pricing issues early.
  • Ensure Treasury is aligned with the tax risks and processes are in place for intercompany loan arrangements.
  • Align cross-functionally to ensure new strategies, or a change in current strategies, are reviewed for tax risk exposure.

In summary, I would encourage a review of the tax organization structure based upon a creative tax risk approach, as compared to the present organization to highlight opportunities and Best Practices.

Africa Progress Report 2013: Global Tax & Transparency initiatives

http://www.africaprogresspanel.org/en/publications/africa-progress-report-2013/apr-documents

The Press Release and Progress Report 2013 are not restricted to activities within Africa, as they advocate tax and transparency initiatives for the upcoming G8 Summit and the international community.  Japan, Russia, Switzerland, the UK and the US are individually identified in the report.

The Africa Progress Panel (APP) consists of ten distinguished individuals from the public and private sector who advocate for shared responsibility between African leaders and their international partners to promote equitable and sustainable development for Africa.  Mr. Kofi Annan chairs the APP. The Panel functions in a unique policy space with the ability to target decision-making audiences.

The press release sets the stage for the debate with the following statement: “International tax avoidance and evasion, corruption, and weak governance represent major challenges.  The report therefore welcomes the commitment from the current G8 presidency, the UK, and other governments to put tax and transparency at the heart of this year’s dialogue.  International business should follow best practices on transparency.”

Part III of the Report has sub-captions beginning on page 63 entitled: “Aggressive tax planning” drains the public purse, followed on the subsequent page with “When companies evade tax responsibilities.”  This section includes the following statements: “Tax avoidance has emerged as a global concern.  In Europe and North America, public anger has been directed towards highly visible multi-billion dollar firms that minimize their tax liabilities through sophisticated but aggressive tax planning.”

Part IV, “Fair taxation-an international challenge, ” provides the commentaries: “Many resource-rich countries in Africa are losing out as a result of “aggressive tax planning”-a euphemism in some cases for tax evasion.  Transfer pricing is another endemic concern.  Tax evasion is a global problem that requires multilateral solutions.  At the heart of the problem is the unwillingness of the OECD countries and wider international community to strengthen disclosure standards.  Japan, Russia, Switzerland, the UK and the US all operate regimes that allow for aggressive tax planning and limited regulatory oversight.  All tax jurisdictions should be required to declare the beneficial ownership structure of registered companies.  Governments in Africa could also look beyond the OECD dialogue.”

The sub-section entitled “Recommendations for Immediate Action” includes a message for transparency by extractive companies stating: “All countries should embrace the project-by-project disclosure standards embodied in the US Dodd-Frank Act and comparable EU legislation, applying them to all extractive industry companies listed on their stock exchanges.”

A message to the G8 community states: “The G8 should establish the architecture for a multilateral regime that tackles unethical tax avoidance and closes down tax evasion.  Companies registered in G8 countries should be required to publish a full list of their subsidiaries and information on global revenues, profits and taxes paid across different jurisdictions.  Tax authorities, including tax authorities in Africa, should exchange information more readily.”

The message to the international community states: “The G8 should adopt at its 2013 summit in the UK a framework that commits each country to full disclosure through a national public registry of the beneficial ownership of registered companies, with a commitment to create such registries before the 2014 G8 summit.”

This report demonstrates the tone for increased tax and transparency within Africa, and more importantly its message to the G8 and the international community.  Unfortunately, the terms aggressive tax planning, avoidance and evasion are used interchangeably in the Report which is intended to provide a strong message for tax and transparency changes but also provide complexity in seeking solutions.  This message is being seen more often in the news from around the world, and the transparency topic is one that should be discussed with senior management and the Board to ensure alignment going forward.

Articles

European Council May Agenda: Energy; Tax Evasion/Avoidance/Fraud

http://www.european-council.europa.eu/the-president.aspx

In a speech by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, he mentioned energy and taxes as two issues that will be discussed at the meeting in May.  Interestingly, the press release states: “The other issue I put on the May agenda for European leaders is tax evasion and avoidance.  There we have to seize the current political momentum, especially on improving exchange of information between our countries.  Tax fraud is exactly the kind of issue where it is first and foremost for Member States to act, but where they cannot effectively do so on their own.”

  • The phrases “tax evasion,” “avoidance” and “tax fraud” all seem be used interchangeably with no distinction in application or meaning.  This seems to be a growing trend in public communications, leading to potentially wrong conclusions and inappropriate actions.  Ensure the relevant phrases, supplemented by intent, are used to convey the message.
  • Ensure one or more members of Tax are keeping aware of these meetings and trends.
  • Inform senior management regularly of current trends, as perceived by the European Council and Member States.

OECD: Countering tax avoidance, evasion & aggressive tax planning

http://www.oecd.org/ctp/aggressive/atp.htm

As you may know, the OECD has an Aggressive Tax Planning (ATP) Steering Group, whose objectives include:

  • Identify current trends
  • Share experiences
  • Focus on timely information sharing in understanding new schemes
  • Provide information enabling countries to adapt their tax risk management strategies

Additionally, the work of the ATP Steering Group is supported by the OECD Aggressive Tax Planning Directory.  The ATP Directory is an online resource for governments to depict types of schemes discovered and fact patterns thereto, and details of their detection.

  • While “tax avoidance” and “tax planning” are frequently used terms, in direct contrast to “tax evasion,” it would be worthwhile to review Global Tax Policies and Tax Risk Management Strategies and verify if additional clarification is needed due to today’s tax environment.
  • Centralization of information by OECD: is your company also centralizing its issues, tax risks and strategies for synergy?
  • Are current trends being analyzed to adjust “tax planning” strategies and relevant tax risks?
  •  Are you ready to explain the difference between tax planning, aggressive tax planning, tax avoidance and tax evasion?
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