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.
Comments on the STATEMENT ON A TWO-PILLAR SOLUTION TO ADDRESS THE TAX CHALLENGES ARISING FROM THE DIGITALISATION OF THE ECONOMY
The BEPS Monitoring Group, 31 July 2021
On 1 July 2021 a statement was issued by the OECD outlining the agreement reached through the Inclusive Framework of the OECD/G20 base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. These comments by the BEPS Monitoring Group (BMG) aim to contribute to a wider public understanding of the issues involved. The BMG is a network of experts on various aspects of international tax, set up by a number of civil society organizations which research and campaign for tax justice including the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, Red de Justicia Fiscal de America Latina y el Caribe, Tax Justice Network, Christian Aid, Action Aid, Oxfam, and Tax Research UK. This report has not been approved in advance by these organizations, which do not necessarily accept every detail or specific point made here, but they support the work of the BMG and endorse its general perspectives. It is based on previous reports, and has been drafted by Sol Picciotto with comments and contributions by Abdul Muheet Chowdhary (Senior Programme Officer, South Centre Tax Initiative), Jeffery Kadet, Annet Oguttu, Sudarshan Rangan, Attiya Waris, and Francis Weyzig.
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.
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.
Development Priorities for Africa in 2021 and Beyond
By Judith Amelia Louis
The author posits that Covid-19 is not the only major problem facing the global South and Africa in particular, although it is the most pressing for the times 2020-2021. The writer attempts to present important priority areas for attention by policymakers and decision makers at the national and regional levels in Africa within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The paper recognizes that the social, economic, and political problems facing Africa are common to all its nation States and calls upon the African Union to play a more proactive role in shaping policy programs to address these persistent problems, including the crafting of statesmen genuinely committed to ‘people-centered development’. The article discusses the issues impacting select priorities of socio-economic welfare; improved governance; human capital investment; regularization of migration and stemming the ‘brain drain’. Suggested policy actions are prescribed as solutions towards achieving development. Urgent action in controlling their economies with the acquisition and retention of requisite skills and technology is the undertone of the paper given the picture of poverty characterizing basic needs data for the continent. For example, in the health sector there are shortages of medical personnel, a situation magnified by the Covid pandemic.
The author envisions Africa’s development utilizing its vast untapped potential including, inter alia, a young population.
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.
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.
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.
Comments on Discussion Draft:Taxation of Software Payments as Royalties
South Centre Tax Initiative
The South Centre supports the proposal being discussed in the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (UN Tax Committee) to tax payments for computer software as royalties. This will help developing countries more effectively tax the digitalized economy and will bring clarity to the application of existing bilateral tax treaties.