Strategizing International Tax Best Practices – by Keith Brockman

Posts tagged ‘treaty shopping’

2014 Update to the OECD Model Tax Convention

The 2014 Update, as adopted by the OECD Council on 15 July 2014, includes changes that were previously released for comments, including the meaning of “beneficial owner.”  Numerous additions and deletions to Commentaries on various Articles, including positions of non-member countries, are also included.  A link to the Update is provided for reference:

http://www.oecd.org/tax/treaties/2014-update-model-tax-concention.pdf

Interesting changes:

  • Article 5 Commentary: new views by Germany, Estonia, and Israel.
  • Article 9 Commentary: Hungary (newly added) and Slovenia reserve the right to specify that a correlative (i.e., offsetting) adjustment will be made only if they consider that the primary adjustment is satisfied.
  • The term “beneficial owner” does not have reference to any technical meaning under domestic law, thus it should not be used in a narrow technical sense, rather, it should be understood in its context and in light of the object and purposes of the Convention including avoiding double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion and avoidance.
  • The term “beneficial owner” does not deal with other cases of treaty shopping, which can be addressed in specific anti-abuse treaty provisions, general anti-abuse rules (GAAR), substance-over-form or economic substance approaches.
  • Article 13 Commentary: With respect to paragraph 3.1, Austria and Germany hold the view that when a new tax treaty enters into force, these countries cannot be deprived of the right to tax the capital appreciation which was generated in these countries before the date when the new treaty became applicable.
  • Article 26 Commentary: The Commentary was expanded to develop the interpretation of the standard of “foreseeable relevance” and the term “fishing expeditions,” i.e. speculative requests that have no apparent nexus to an open inquiry or investigation.  The Commentary further provides for an optional default standard of time limits within which the information is required to be provided unless a different agreement has been made by the competent authorities.  The examples provided are to demonstrate the overarching purpose of Article 26 not to restrict the scope of exchange of information but to allow information exchange “to the widest possible extent.”

The Update requires a comprehensive review to determine potential implications, including beneficial ownership restrictions and ways of working by competent authorities.  Such review should distinguish changes to the Articles versus additions or deletions to the Commentary interpreting such Articles.  Note that the OECD BEPS changes will be an addition to this Update.

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.

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.

http://www.kpmg.com/Ca/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/TNF/Pages/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 :

http://www.kpmg.com/Ca/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/Documents/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.

Vietnam introduces anti-treaty shopping rules

A draft circular, released by the Ministry of Finance, introduces rules that would enable Vietnamese tax authorities to deny tax treaty benefits.  A substance-over-form principle would be used for those transactions concluded solely to achieve a tax benefit (i.e. the main purpose of an agreement is to obtain treaty benefits) and for which the benefit is not received by the beneficial owner.

Beneficial ownership benefits may be challenged if the applicant:

  • Has the obligation to distribute more than 50% of the income to another entity,
  • Only has business activities consisting of asset ownership or the right to generate income,
  • Has an amount of assets, business scale or employees not commensurate with the income received,
  • Does not have control or power over the assets of has low risks for such assets or income,
  • Has a back-to-back arrangement for lending, royalties or technical services with a third party,
  • Is resident of a country which has no, or a low, income tax, or
  • Is an intermediary solely for the purpose of accessing treaty benefits.

The Circular is presently in draft form, although the concept of “Beneficial Ownership” should be reviewed in every legal structure to determine potential risks and consequences.  This action in Vietnam is also mirrored by efforts of the OECD and other countries to restrict treaty benefits for certain activities.  For example, the UK has recently released rules enabling public disclosure of beneficial owners having ultimate ownership of the respective entity (refer to 1 Nov. post).

Note that the proposed tests for beneficial ownership are primarily objective, thus holding company structures, and their respective Articles of Association, should be reviewed in preparation for revised rules of “Beneficial Ownership.”

http://www.auschamvn.org/editor/assets/PwC%20Vietnam%20Newsbrief%20-%20Draft%20Circular%20on%20treaty%20shopping%20provisions_EN.pdf

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