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.
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.
Financial integrity for sustainable development: Importance of developing country joint action on tax, corruption and money-laundering
By Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki
Countries are beginning to realize that the landmark agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals will be unrealized if financing is not found for the agenda. Much of that financing can be found if illicit financial flows are stopped. In March 2020, the Presidents of the United Nations General Assembly and Economic and Social Council convened a High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI Panel) to review global cooperation and recommend further actions by the international community as a contribution. Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, the Co-Chair of the FACTI Panel, outlines the measures that the FACTI Panel recommended to combat tax abuse, corruption and money-laundering. He emphasizes the importance of developing countries taking a leading role in proposing solutions, and the value of inclusive international institutions. The text below is based on remarks that were made at a briefing to the Group of 77 and China in Geneva in April 2021, jointly organized by the FACTI Panel Secretariat and the South Centre. The Panel’s full report can be read at: http://www.factipanel.org/report.
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.
Opportunities and Challenges: Tax Cooperation and Governance for Asia-Pacific Countries
By Sakshi Rai
An informal technical meeting was organised on April 8th 2021 by the Secretariat of the High Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI Panel) for tax officials from the Asia-Pacific, to discuss the relevance of the Panel’s recommendations in the context of the region as well as to familiarise tax officials with its final report.