Combatting Tax Treaty Abuse: Tools available under the BEPS Multilateral Instrument
By Kuldeep Sharma, ADIT (CIOT,UK)
The anxiety of taxpayers, consultants and advisors over the consistent application of Principal Purpose Test (PPT) provisions in tax treaties can now be put to rest as tax authorities are expected to consistently read the PPT provisions in conjunction with the preamble, i.e. the key to application of PPT provisions lies in the preamble of the treaty itself. This follows on taking a leaf out of the Preamble to the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (MLI), Vienna Convention, Commentaries on PPT in the respective Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and United Nations (UN) Model Tax Convention (MTC), 2017 and Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) instructions on PPT which abundantly highlight on conjoint application of the preamble in the course of invocation of PPT provisions. Now, the entire focus of extending treaty benefits has shifted to undertaking bonafide transactions and preventing double taxation as against a tendency of securing tax savings through tax avoidance. Therefore, PPT as read with the preamble can clearly be invoked to combat treaty-shopping arrangements, abusive tax planning and abusive tax avoidance arrangements or transactions. At the same time, tax authorities in any part of the world may not be inclined to invoke PPT as read with the preamble in respect of any arrangement or transaction when taxpayers are able to discharge their onus establishing that (below mentioned conditions to be satisfied in tandem):
– genuine business and commercial reasons for a transaction exist;
– a purpose for the transaction cannot be ascribed to non-taxation or reduced taxation through tax evasion or tax avoidance;
– despite no tax advantages, the transaction would be carried out exactly in the same way; and
– it cannot reasonably be considered that one of the principal purposes of the arrangement or transaction is to obtain treaty benefits and that the object and purpose of the treaty is getting defeated.