Taxation of Computer Software: Need for Clear Guidance in the UN Model Tax Convention
By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary and Sebastien Babou Diasso
Developing countries pay enormous sums of money for the right to use intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc. Such payments are known as ‘royalties’. The scale is enormous, and just 27 South Centre Member States paid $45 billion in 2020 as royalties. Some proportion of these payments are for the right to use computer software. Developing countries can gain significant revenues if the United Nations can provide clear international tax guidelines that payments for the right to use computer software should be taxable as royalties. This Policy Brief provides the world’s first country-level revenue estimates for 34 of the South Centre’s Member States and finds that they could collect potentially $1 billion in tax revenues in 2020 had they been able to tax payments for the use of computer software as royalties.
Enforcing Secondary Taxing Rights: Subject to Tax Rule in the UN Model Tax Convention
By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary and Sebastien Babou Diasso
The Global Anti Base Erosion (GloBE) Rules under OECD’s Pillar Two recommendations, with a minimum effective tax rate of 15%, are expected to play a significant role to end the ‘race to the bottom’ in corporate taxation, which is one of the main drivers of profit shifting. However, the thrust of these rules is designed in a manner to give priority to the developed countries. In this light, the Subject to Tax Rule (STTR), which is a treaty-based rule that allows source jurisdictions to impose limited source taxation on certain payments that are taxed below a minimum rate in the country of residence, is of extreme significance for the developing countries. Under Pillar Two, application of STTR is restricted to base eroding payments or mobile income between related parties only, which does not address Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) concerns in an entirety. That apart, the withholding tax rate of 9% proposed by the OECD may not result in generation of significant resources for the developing countries. In this light, developing countries keenly expect that the UN Tax Committee should devise an STTR that is simple to operate, has a broad scope covering all payments in a tax treaty and imposes a higher withholding tax closer to 15% to bring meaningful revenues for them. Also, developing countries desire that STTR provisions may be introduced at the earliest so as to speedily implement them through the UN Multilateral Instrument under contemplation. This Policy Brief also examines existing average withholding tax rates on interest and royalty payments in existing tax treaties of 48 South Centre and 52 G-77+China Member States and finds that out of a total of 100 developing countries, only 25 would stand to benefit from the STTR in its restricted form in Pillar Two, further strengthening the need for an improved version formulated by the United Nations.
South Centre Inputs to UN Secretary-General for “Promotion of inclusive and effective tax cooperation at the United Nations”
The South Centre submits the following comments and recommendations to the UN Secretary-General for the report being prepared in response to UN General Assembly resolution 77/244 on “Promotion of inclusive and effective tax cooperation at the United Nations.”
Digital taxation under the OECD Amount A and UN Article 12B mechanisms for market jurisdictions in Africa: a comparative analysis
By Erica Rakotonirina
This Policy Brief examines the need for the evolution and harmonization of international taxation in the face of the digitalization of economic transactions.
Between the OECD proposal for shared taxation of residual profits through the Amount A mechanism and the UN proposal of Article 12B for taxing income from Automated Digital Services on a gross basis through shared but capped taxation, with an optional variant of the taxation of net profits, African States need to make vital political and technical choices.
The strategic negotiations must include regulatory sustainability, the right balance and fiscal fairness between the divergent interests of residence states vs source states (which include almost all African countries), and MNEs in their quest for profit and expansion.
The Policy Brief carries out quantified evaluation of possible revenue estimates using a case study approach. However, such an exercise remains difficult for questions of accessibility and reliability of data relating to the activities of multinational companies.
To be realistic, the scope of the study was restricted to a reference company in the digital sector but targeted economies of different scales. The results of the revenue estimates represent an optimistic case of the impacts on tax revenues of the application of the OECD and UN measures on different types of economies.
COMMENTS ON PILLAR ONE – AMOUNT A: DRAFT MULTILATERAL CONVENTION PROVISIONS ON DIGITAL SERVICES TAXES AND OTHER RELEVANT SIMILAR MEASURES
The BEPS Monitoring Group, 25 January 2023
The BEPS Monitoring Group submitted comments to the public consultation on the draft provisions on withdrawal of Digital Services Taxes and ‘relevant similar measures’. Abdul Muheet Chowdhary, Senior Programme Officer of the South Centre Tax Initiative, was a contributor.
Transfer pricing remains a highly complex and challenging area for developing countries. The ultimate objective of transfer pricing is to determine a market price for intra-company transactions, but doing this in practice is a largely subjective exercise, which makes it prone to abuse and profit shifting. Developing countries lose billions of dollars in revenue each year due to abusive transfer pricing.
Amount B is important for developing countries as it seeks to provide a simple method through which in-scope intra-company transactions can be priced, which can potentially ease tax administration, reduce disputes and increase tax certainty. However, the current form of the proposal renders it highly complex and unlikely to achieve its stated objective of simplification.
These draft provisions are amongst the most controversial aspects of the Pillar One rules, as countries which decide to implement the OECD solution will be expected to give up the use of DSTs and similar measures on all companies, not just those in-scope of Amount A.
Taxing Big Tech: Policy Options for Developing Countries
By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary and Sébastien Babou Diasso
Even as the COVID-19 crisis wreaked havoc on the global economy, it gave rise to a small set of winners, namely Big Tech. The increasing prevalence of remote work and an acceleration of the digitalization of the economy allowed Big Tech companies to raise enormous revenues during the pandemic, which in some cases dwarfed the gross domestic product (GDP) of several countries. This policy brief explores the rising untaxed profits of Big Tech in particular, and the digitalized economy in general, and explains why the existing rules are insufficient. It also critically examines the solution that has been devised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of developed countries. Finally, it outlines alternative policy options that are more suitable for developing countries to tax the profits of Big Tech.
Revenue Effects of the Global Minimum Corporate Tax Rate for African Economies
By Seydou Coulibaly
This policy brief provides the first piece of empirical evidence on the revenue implications of the recent global minimum tax rate reform agreement for African economies. We implement a regression discontinuity design to evaluate the effect of having an effective corporate tax rate of at least 15% on tax revenue collection for a panel of 28 African economies over the period 2000-2020.
The estimation results indicate that the implementation of the global minimum effective corporate tax rate of 15% proposed under Pillar II of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Two Pillar Solution has a positive but not statistically significant likely impact on corporate tax revenue and total tax revenue at the conventional significance levels. This suggests that the global minimum tax deal is unlikely to increase tax revenue for African economies. These findings exhort the Inclusive Framework and all the stakeholders of the global tax reform negotiations to consider revising the global minimum tax rate rules to ensure that the agreement will effectively benefit African countries through better tax revenue collection.
The proposed OECD Pillar One and Two reforms mark a significant shift in the way large multinational enterprises are taxed on their global incomes. However, while considering the reform at the proposed scale tax administrators must be able to compare the revenue gains with alternatives. This paper uses open-source data to provide tentative estimates of the impact of Pillars One and Two. The methodology has been detailed so that administrators can replicate it for comparison. Further, the paper provides an assessment from the perspective of developing countries of some of the key design elements of the proposals so as to understand whether they are administrable and to foresee possible challenges.
UN Model Tax Convention: Selective Territoriality – The Specter of Privileged Player in a Rigged Game
By Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmed
This paper lays out the chessboard on which taxes on international incomes from immovables are contested, bargained, and harvested as per pre-determined rules that are starkly tilted in favor of developed countries. This embedded and pronounced bias in the international taxes regime in favor of developed countries makes them a privileged player. The developed countries then make maneuvers to optimize on their economic gains at the expense of developing nations rendering it a rigged game setting. The paper derives its rationale from an exceptionally selective choice of territoriality on incomes from immovables, which was astonishingly not aligned with the expected reverse capital movement, that is, from developing to developed countries. The genesis and evolution of selective territoriality are traced through its various institutional development phases – League of Nations (LN), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and United Nations (UN). An overwhelming international consensus on selective territoriality on incomes from immovables notwithstanding, the UN’s role is brought into spotlight to argue that the developing countries may have suffered massively over the past one hundred years by instinctively believing in the UN Model Tax Convention’s (MTC) efficacy and blindly pursuing Article 6 in their bilateral double taxation conventions (DTCs). The inimical implications of herd-mentality on part of developing countries got galvanized in the particular wake of developed countries employing innovative optimization tools – citizenship/residence by investment programs, tax havenry, manipulable ownership structures, beneficial ownership legislations, and porous exchange of information regime – to maximize on the economic gains. The paper undertakes both normative and structuralist evaluation of selective territoriality to sum up that this is an unjust principle of distribution of fiscal rights at the international level particularly in asymmetric economic relationships, and can hold its ground only until developing countries attain full cognition of the reality and start raising their vocal chords in unison to dismantle it.