Developing Country Demands for an Equitable Digital Tax Solution
By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary
The taxation of the digitalized economy is the foremost challenge in international taxation today. Countries around the world, especially developing countries, are struggling with taxing the rising profits of major tech giants which operate on entirely new business models that have made traditional international tax rules obsolete. A “Two Pillar solution” is being negotiated in the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS that seeks to update these rules, re-allocate taxing rights and establish a global minimum tax. However, as it stands, the solution has very limited tax revenue benefits for developing countries and is administratively complex. For the solution to be durable, it must be equitable, and accordingly must incorporate the concerns of developing countries going forward.
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.
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.
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.
The Tax Sovereignty Principle and Its Peaceful Coexistence with Article 12B of the UN Model Tax Convention
By Kuldeep Sharma, ADIT (CIOT, UK)
Article 12B of the United Nations (UN) Model Tax Convention (MTC) provides developing countries with a practical and easy way to administer policy solutions for taxing the digital economy, in particular income from Automated Digital Services. It merges seamlessly with the existing provisions of the UN MTC and it is completely aligned and coexistent with the Tax Sovereignty Principle.
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.
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.
The Role of South-South Cooperation in Combatting Illicit Financial Flows
By Manuel F Montes
Developing countries bear the brunt of costs from illicit financial flows (IFFs). These losses are the result of the facilities that the global system provides transnational companies, operating in multiple tax jurisdictions, to move their profits to favorable locations. International cooperation has been seen to be a key ingredient in restricting IFFs. However, a difference in interests in the treatment of many types of transactions between developed and developing countries is an obstacle to a fast solution of the problem. Developing countries must seek to seize the initiative to restrict their losses from IFFs. They can deploy various joint and concerted actions, within the umbrella of the principles of South-South cooperation for this purpose.
Addressing Developing Countries’ Tax Challenges of the Digitalization of the Economy
By Monica Victor
This Policy Brief sheds light on some of the implications for developing countries concerning the new international taxation global governance structure and the ongoing corporate tax reform process under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project umbrella in the context of the digitalization of the economy. The objective is to inform developing country tax authorities on the issues that may require further South-South cooperation and action to protect taxing rights that are of vital importance for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Firstly, the new international collaborative mechanisms created after the BEPS Project – the Platform for Collaboration on Tax and the Inclusive Framework on BEPS – are described. Secondly, the international tax reform proposals under negotiations in the Inclusive Framework on BEPS are outlined. The final remarks will address the challenges for developing countries to participate in the ongoing international tax reform effectively.
Gender, Tax Reform and Taxation Cooperation Issues: Navigating Equity and Efficiency under Policy Constraints
By Dr. Mariama Williams
This policy brief has sought to present a review of the state of thinking and research on a pressing issue of the day: tax reform and tax cooperation and its gendered impacts. There is undeniably widespread agreement amongst all the entities of global governance with responsibility for a role in macroeconomic, financial and trade policies that gender equality and women’s empowerment are important to sustained growth and development. Increasingly, these same voices are articulating and researching on how fiscal policy both on the budgetary and on the revenue side can be made more efficient, gender sensitive and gender responsive. Taxation is the latest area of focused attention in this regard. There is now a quite strong body of work, including case studies, that demonstrates how the tax system can work to the disadvantage of socio-economic development and social goals including gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Improving Transfer Pricing Audit Challenges in Africa through Modern Legislation and Regulations
By Thulani Shongwe
Auditing multinational enterprises often involves a broad range of complex technical issues, and transfer pricing (TP) is often the most important one. This policy brief looks at some of the key aspects of the modern TP legislation and illustrates how different drafting of regulations can assist in additional revenue collection as well as increased compliance. It further provides practical examples from real cases to show where poor legislation has given rise to tax planning and to profit shifting. Lastly, the brief offers practical solutions to some of the transactions illustrated through the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) Suggested Approach to Drafting Transfer Pricing Legislation.