An Albatross Around the Neck of Developing Nations – MFN Clause in Tax Treaties
By Deepak Kapoor, IRS
The Most Favoured Nation (“MFN”) clause in double taxation avoidance conventions epitomises the basic principle of non-discrimination and intends to bring parity in business and investment opportunities among treaty partner countries and jurisdictions. Inclusion of provisions like MFN and non-discrimination clauses in tax treaties are intended to promote equity among treaty partners. In the context of tax treaties between developed and developing countries, the MFN clauses also act as negotiating tools to bargain for better treaty tax rates.
However, lately these clauses have started demonstrating disadvantageous effects for the source countries, which are mostly developing countries. The MFN clauses generally do not appear to be creating potential risks if they are operational between two equally developed countries but when the relationship is between a developed and developing country, where one partner receives more investments from the other than it makes, such risks are inevitable. Lately, problems have started arising due to various interpretations of the MFN clauses by the courts forcing the source countries to extend benefits of reduced rates and restricted scope to treaty partner countries under the MFN rules. Such beneficial interpretations have gone beyond the basic objective and purpose of the MFN clauses.
In light of recent court cases in South Africa and India, it appears that the MFN clauses are creating opportunities for “reduced taxation” and leading to unintended erosion of tax base of source countries. The problem also lies with the ambiguous drafting and formulations of the MFN clauses, which eventually leads to unexpected negative outcomes for countries who have bound themselves with the future commitments. Therefore, a comprehensive review of existing MFN clauses in tax treaties, their cross connections and possible negative spill over effects to other treaties is the urgent need of the hour for the source jurisdictions.
Article 12B – A tax treaty solution by the UN Tax Committee for taxing digital incomes
By Rajat Bansal
Taxation of income of multinational enterprises engaged in digitalised businesses by source or market jurisdictions is currently the most important challenge before the international tax community. The current membership of the United Nations Tax Committee in April 2021 finalised a tax treaty solution to address this challenge. This brief explains the rationale for coming up with a particular solution of inserting a new Article in the United Nations Model Tax Convention, its merits and how it can be beneficial for all countries, especially the developing ones.
Statement by the South Centre on the Two Pillar Solution to Address the Tax Challenges Arising From the Digitalisation of the Economy
The South Centre takes note of the statement by 130 members of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework (IF) on a two-pillar solution to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalisation of the economy. The agreement by the members is indeed historic and marks progress in the right direction. Unfortunately, the agreed upon solution is limited and disappointing as it falls short of the more ambitious and transformational reforms needed for a balanced agreement that fully responds to the concerns of developing countries, especially in the backdrop of the socioeconomic challenges posed by the COVID pandemic. Nine jurisdictions have not agreed with the statement, with the reasons still not public; however, it is a signal that cannot be ignored.
Improve nexus rule for fair distribution of taxing rights to developing countries
By Radhakishan Rawal
One of the open issues for Pillar One in the discussion on the taxation of the digital economy is the nexus threshold, which would determine which Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) have a taxable presence. Big developed economies or smaller developing economies both may be deprived of taxing rights as a result of nexus thresholds as presently described in the Pillar One proposal. Further, even where smaller thresholds are adopted, some countries may still be denied taxing rights. Financial threshold was never a parameter of distributing taxing rights between the countries. A minor tweaking of the tax certainty process could address the issue.
This article recommends giving the taxing right over Amount A of Pillar One, which covers the main portion of taxable profits from the digital economy to all the market jurisdictions, but to give rights related to affected tax jurisdictions only to those countries meeting the nexus thresholds. This approach will result in a fair distribution of taxing rights and will also ensure that there is no additional burden on the tax certainty process, which will be easier for developing countries.
Recent changes to the United Nations (UN) Model Tax Convention have resulted in provisions that are more advantageous for developing countries in raising revenue through international taxation, i.e. taxation of foreign income. These include taxation of income from automated digital services, software payments, capital gains and others. Normally, these would be incorporated into bilateral tax treaties through time-taking negotiations. A UN Multilateral Instrument (MLI) provides a speedy manner for updating multiple tax treaties through a single negotiation. This will help developing countries in collecting revenue more quickly. This Policy Brief discusses the possible structure of such an MLI.
Making the UN Tax Committee more effective for developing countries
By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary
The United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (UN Tax Committee) is an important and influential subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that shapes standards and guidelines on international taxation. These are the rules through which Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) are taxed. Its role post-COVID-19 has become even more important as countries struggle to raise revenue. Despite being under-resourced, it has produced valuable guidance, especially on the crucial question of the digital economy. As a new Membership of the Committee is about to be selected, this Policy Brief provides practical recommendations on how the Committee can be reformed to be made more effective, especially for the interests of developing countries.
Redistributing Taxing Rights to the Global South through the Digitalized Economy
By Carlos Protto
A historic discussion is underway within both the United Nations (UN) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on redistributing taxing rights to the Global South through proposals on taxing the digitalized economy. An overview of the issues at stake is provided in this SouthViews by Carlos Protto, Member of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters and Argentina’s representative in the Steering Group of the OECD/Group of Twenty (G20) Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS). The text is based on his presentation at the international virtual seminar co-organized by the South Centre on “Equity in Global Tax Regimes and Implications for the SDGs” held on 7 October 2020. The recording is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wAESmfvRN4&ab_channel=uomlive.
Comments on Discussion Draft: Possible Changes to the United Nations Model Double Taxation Convention Between Developed and Developing Countries Concerning Inclusion of software payments in the definition of royalties
The South Centre Tax Initiative (SCTI) offers its comments on the discussion draft on inclusion of software payments in the definition of royalties. As is well known, this is an important issue that developing countries have been fighting for, for a while now. The SCTI supports the proposed change which seeks to insert the phrase “computer software” in article 12(3) of the United Nations Model Double Taxation Convention Between Developed and Developing Countries. The COVID-19 pandemic adds special urgency to resolving this long-pending issue as revenue from software payments made from developing countries continues to increase.
Base Erosion and Profit Shifting in the Extractive Industries
By Danish and Daniel Uribe
Developing countries with significant natural resources have not fully utilised them for financing their development aspirations. Extractive industries and the revenue generated from their extractive activities need to constitute a larger share of domestic resource mobilisation. However, the sector remains beset with massive tax base erosion and profit shifting by large multinational companies. This policy brief therefore looks at the extractive industries, and the potential impact of their practices on the national policies and regulations in developing countries. It further also considers some current initiatives at the international level for enabling countries to obtain more revenue from natural resource extraction, and offers some observations on the policy options available to developing countries.
Mesures nationales sur l’imposition de l’économie numérique
ParVeronica Grondona, Abdul Muheet Chowdhary, Daniel Uribe
Le Cadre inclusif sur le BEPS de l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE) envisage une approche fondée sur deux piliers en matière de taxation de l’économie numérique. Les premières estimations concernant l’impact de ses recommandations montrent une modeste augmentation de la collecte de l’impôt sur les sociétés, dont les bénéfices devraient revenir principalement aux pays développés. Dans le même temps, les mesures nationales de taxation de l’économie numérique se multiplient, en conséquence de la pandémie de COVID-19. Le droit international reconnaît pleinement ce droit aux pays, bien que cette approche soit considérée comme une forme d’unilatéralisme. Ce document de recherche met en lumière les mesures de fiscalité directe prises par différents pays et présente les trois approches clés retenues pour taxer l’économie numérique : (1) l’imposition de taxes sur les services numériques ; (2) l’élaboration de règles permettant d’établir un lien fiscal pour les entreprises numériques qui opère par l’intermédiaire d’une présence numérique significative ; (3) des retenues à la source sur les transactions numériques.
Medidas Tributarias Nacionales sobre la Economia Digital
Por Veronica Grondona, Abdul Muheet Chowdhary, Daniel Uribe
El Marco Inclusivo de la Organización de Cooperación y Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE) está considerando un enfoque de dos pilares en relación con el cobro de impuestos sobre la economía digital. Las estimaciones preliminares acerca de la repercusión de sus recomendaciones indican un modesto incremento en la recaudación de impuestos sobre la renta de las sociedades, cuyos beneficios se prevén que se dirijan principalmente a los países desarrollados. Al mismo tiempo, están proliferando las medidas nacionales en materia de cobro de impuestos sobre la economía digital, un cambio estimulado por el comienzo de la pandemia de COVID-19. Los países también tienen plenos derechos a aplicarlas en virtud del derecho internacional, pese a las etiquetas de “unilateralismo”. En este documento de investigación se ponen de relieve las medidas en materia de impuestos directos que están adoptando diversos países y se exponen tres enfoques fundamentales con respecto al cobro de impuestos sobre la economía digital: 1) impuestos sobre los servicios digitales; 2) normas sobre un nexo en base a una presencia digital significativa; y 3) retenciones en origen sobre las transacciones digitales.
Comments on Session Paper relating to tax consequences of the digitalized economy – issues of relevance for developing countries
The SCTI offers its comments on the Session Paper on “Tax consequences of the digitalized economy – issues of relevance for developing countries” (E/C.18/2020/CRP.25) to be discussed at the 20th Session of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation on Tax Matters. The comments examine key issues for developing countries in the Unified Approach (UA) to Pillar One and explore alternative solutions at the international level as discussed in the Paper.