TAX, SOCIETY & CULTURE

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Canada implements the MLI on BEPS; Will Parliament Take a Nap?

Published Sep 20, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

With the return of Canada's Parliament to business this week, debate theoretically should take place on Bill C-82, An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting, a.k.a. the "Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions Act" (the official short title). But we can call it the BEPS bill since its job is to implement a set of consensus positions the OECD developed to eliminate "Base Erosion and Profit Shifting" by multinational taxpayers.

This BEPS Bill implements the OECD's MLI to Prevent BEPS, which is a multilateral treaty that amends existing bilateral tax treaties. The rationale is that countries were engaging in or at least facilitating BEPS, and they were often doing so through tax treaties, so a blanket change to a few thousand of these treaties was needed to prevent ongoing tax avoidance.

Given that the BEPS bill adopts one treaty to rule them all, Parliament might be expected to undertake careful scrutiny of its terms, but these expectations are not likely to be met. A study I completed with help from a very adept graduate student in 2016, entitled “While Parliament Sleeps: Tax Treaty Practice in Canada,” (published in the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law / Revue de droit parlementaire et politique 10 (1) : 15-38, March / mars 2016 and available in draft form here), found that over a fifteen year period, Parliament has adopted legislation implementing 32 international tax agreements without a single standing vote occurring in the House of Commons at any point in the legislative process.

These 32 agreements collectively form over 750 pages of binding law in Canada, none of which was considered for more than two sittings at any stage of consideration in either the Senate or House of Commons.

In Canada, tax-treaty implementing legislation is generally introduced in the Senate, studied very little there, and then sent to the House of Commons where it receives even less attention. Although tax scholars focus, rightfully, on scrutinizing the substance of tax treaties, we should not be lulled into ignoring the process by which Parliament discharges its role in legislating tax treaty implementation. To that end, some of the debate in Parliament is downright disappointing.

For example, consider the most recent exercise (written after my study), when the Senate was seized with Bill S-4, whose official summary reads:

 This enactment implements a convention between the Government of Canada and the Government of the State of Israel for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and an arrangement between the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. It also amends the Canada–Hong Kong Tax Agreement Act, 2013 to add to it, for greater certainty, an interpretation provision.
In a speech of only a few minutes on the bill, the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate stated:
 It is urgent that we move forward with the study of this bill because if we want the agreements on double taxation to go into effect in 2017, the bill must receive Royal Assent by the end of 2016. Therefore, I invite all honourable Senators who wish to speak to this bill to do so as quickly as possible so that the bill may be referred to a committee as soon as possible.
In total, the entire House Finance Committee's study took less than 15 minutes. The third reading debate in the Senate lasted less than 10 minutes and, after calling the bill a "no-brainer," a "marvellous bill," and "a continuity-of-government bill" that "does wonderful things for Canadian industry and consumers alike," the Senators continued with this exchange:
Senator Day: Should I tell anybody what this bill is about?
Some Hon. Senators: No.
Then followed a dubiously notable comment by Senator Plett that "I'd like to add my voice and simply say that this, again, is clear evidence that occasionally a good biscuit can be found in a garbage can."

The idea that Parliament should rush to meet the government’s preferred timetable in what the Senate characterizes as a "garbage can" of a bill (or of a government--I am not sure which) is highly problematic. If it takes longer to scrutinize a bill, so be it. The government – for its part – didn’t leave Parliament much time in this case, having only introduced S-4 in the Senate on November 1st, 2016.  By the time the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate got to make her speech on November 24th, the clock was ticking quickly toward the MPs' and Senators' winter break.

I single out this debate not only for the unprincipled concession to expedited timing, but particularly for the exchange that followed. A Senator asked the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate “In your opinion, does the bill before us pertain to our participation in the WTO?” The response: “I do not know much about this bill. However, I do know that it is important, that it is urgent that we move it along, and that it has significant consequences.”

Putting aside the carefree decision to speak to a bill one “does not know much about” and the apparent confusion about how the bill relates to the WTO (did the Senator mistake a tax treaty for a trade agreement?), it would be hard to characterize the limited early Senate Chamber debate as well-informed or thoughtful in any way. On the House side, the bill was fast-tracked – a motion passed by unanimous consent stipulated that “when the House begins debate on the third reading motion of the Bill, a Member from each recognized party, as well as a Member from the Bloc Québécois, may speak for not more than five minutes, with no question and comment period, after which the Bill shall be deemed read a third time and passed."

As such, in its last debate, the bill received less than 20 minutes of attention in the House with no questions –that is, each party spoke but there was no dialogue in substance. The bill received Royal Assent on December 15th, 2016.

This brings me back to the BEPS Bill, which actually bucks the trend by being introduced in the House of Commons instead of the Senate. This is important because even though Senate debates on tax treaty implementing legislation are limited (as evidenced above), the Senate is still the body that generally studies these matters and has nominally built up expertise. Because the general trend in Parliament is that the Chamber that receives a tax bill second is the one that studies it less, one is left to hope without confidence that the House will undertake its due diligence.

There is cause for concern with C-82. Unlike the other tax treaty implementing bills I studied, this was preceded by a ways and means motion that provided the text of the bill in advance. In other words, the Minister of Finance tabled a notice on May 28th that contained essentially what would become C-82. But, rather than debate the Notice, the House on June 19th deemed that motion agreed to and further deemed the BEPS bill formally introduced.

Without venturing too far into the procedural weeds, it is perhaps sufficient to observe that there could have been a debate on that ways and means motion. Instead, the decision in June deemed this motion adopted ‘on division’ – that is, dissent is indicated for the record but we don’t know who disagreed or on what basis because there was no actual debate on the record.

This leads me to wonder whether we’ll see an actual debate occur on the merits of C-82 if even its introduction was fast-tracked through deeming. I doubt it. After all, MPs (and Senators alike) often find tax matters confusing and technical. Maybe in this case especially, the whole things seems like a foregone conclusion since we are talking about an OECD initiative in which Canada has been involved over many years. Moreover, Canada's undertakings in the MLI are modest to say the least. Even so, that doesn’t mean these bills don’t deserve careful study since it is agreed that certain tax arrangements erode Canada’s tax base (cf: the recently decided Alta Energy case). It is much harder (and more costly) to re-negotiate and re-legislate (if need be) a treaty than to get things right the first time (for a discussion, see See Charlie Feldman, “Parliamentary Practice and Treaties” (2015) 9 J. Parliamentary & Pol. L. 585). Adopt in haste, repent at leisure ought to be a mantra for tax treaties.

Unfortunately, Canada's Parliament has limited involvement in the treaty process and only so much influence over treaty-implementing legislation. An additional concern is that there is only so much time left in the legislative calendar with an election a year away. The government has important pieces of legislation moving – including implementing the TPP, adopting the first-ever national legislation on accessibility, and an election law overhaul that the government has already tried to fast-track. Moreover, of the 366 commitments the Trudeau government has made, the government’s own analysis indicates that just 96 have thus far been met. Many others also require legislation, for example, the specific commitments to “introduce proactive pay equity legislation for federally-regulated workers"; to modify Canada’s oath of citizenship to reflect Canadian and Indigenous history; to introduce an Indigenous Languages Act; and to reform the Canada Labour Code to help precarious workers.

Moreover, Parliament already has many bills to consider which have yet to complete the legislative process. Parliament's Legislation-at-a-glance page shows just how much each House has before it already, including criminal justice and family law reforms, firearms regulation, and military justice changes remaining in the House, and many big legislative matters before the Senate including bills on sustainable development, access to information, and fisheries reform. While the BEPS bill could be a step ahead of bills yet to come, it is easy to imagine easier-to-debate matters (such as labour reforms) getting much more debate in the House and, if and when it does get to the Senate, that body will be even more pressed for time given all the other items from the House being added to its plate.

With all these bills anticipated, and little experience in tax treaties, will the House give the BEPS bill its due? Unlikely. It is more likely that as far as Canada is concerned, C-82 will be a Bill Evading Parliamentary Scrutiny.

Tagged as: BEPS Canada MLI scholarship

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Does a country's willingness to exchange tax info alter the character of its trade in services?

Published Oct 21, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Delimatsis and Hoekman have posted National Tax Regulation, International Standards and the GATS: Argentina—Financial Services, of interest especially in light of ongoing discourse about what kinds of tax competition are approved versus harmful in OECD terms. Here is the abstract:

Can a WTO Member discriminate against foreign suppliers of services located in jurisdictions that refuse to share information with a government to permit it to determine if its nationals engage in tax evasion? Does it matter if the Member uses standards developed by an international body as the criterion for deciding whether to impose measures? In Argentina—Financial Services the WTO Appellate Body held that services from jurisdictions that share financial tax information may be different from services provided by jurisdictions that do not cooperate in supplying such information. It overruled a Panel finding that measures to increase taxes on financial transactions with non-cooperative jurisdictions were discriminatory. We argue that the AB reached the right conclusion but that an important opportunity was missed to clarify what WTO Members are permitted to do to enforce their domestic regulatory regimes, and how international standards could have a bearing on this question. By giving consideration to arguments that the likeness of services and service suppliers may be a function of prevailing domestic regulatory regimes, the AB increased the scope for confusion and future litigation.

Tagged as: scholarship tax policy WTO

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Burgers & Mosquera on Corporate Tax, BEPS, and Developing Countries

Published Sep 06, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Irene Burgers (University of Groningen - Faculty of Economics and Business) and  Irma Mosquera Valderrama (IBFD) recently posted Corporate Taxation and BEPS: A Fair Slice for Developing Countries?, which explores the link between perceptions of fairness in the allocation of international tax revenues and buy-in to the BEPS framework by developing countries. Here is the abstract:
The aim of this article is to examine the differences in perception of ‘fairness’ between developing and developed countries, which influence developing countries’ willingness to embrace the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) proposals and to recommend as to how to overcome these differences. The article provides an introduction to the background of the OECD’s BEPS initiatives (Action Plan, Low Income Countries Report, Multilateral Framework, Inclusive Framework) and the concerns of developing countries about their ability to implement BEPS (Section 1); a non-exhaustive overview of the shortcomings of the BEPS Project and its Action Plan in respect of developing countries (Section 2); arguments on why developing countries might perceive fairness in relation to corporate income taxes differently from developed countries (Section 3); and recommendations for international organisations, governments and academic researchers on where fairness in respect of developing countries should be more properly addressed (Section 4). 
This is an important analysis because it is clear that the meaningful participation of non-OECD countries in the development of international tax norms going forward is both difficult and imperative in terms of both legitimacy and effectiveness of the evolving international tax order.

Tagged as: BEPS development fairness scholarship tax competition tax policy

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Assessing BEPS: Origins, Standards, and Responses

Published Jul 14, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

If you are an IFA member or are attending IFA this fall, you can now download the full IFA 2017 Cahiers. The general report for Subject 1 on BEPS is co-authored by myself and Stephen Shay and is also available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The G20/OECD’s multi-year campaign to combat base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) marks a critical step in the evolution of the international tax regime and the roles of institutions that guide it. This General Report for Subject 1, IFA Congress 2017, provides a snapshot of the outcomes of the BEPS project by comparing national responses to key mandates, recommendations and best practices through the end of October, 2016 based on National Reports representing the perspectives of 48 countries.  These National Reports reveal that the impact of the BEPS initiative on a particular country corresponds to at least three key factors, namely: (1) the extent to which domestic law is already in substantial compliance with BEPS outcomes; (2) the degree to which implementation of BEPS outcomes appears capable of delivering positive revenue or economic results, or both, relative to a country’s experiences and perceptions prior to BEPS; and (3) the type and degree of involvement of a country in the formative stages of the initiative preceding the release of the final BEPS action plans.  As BEPS continues to unfold, it is difficult to gauge the full extent to which countries in fact will adhere or defect from the rules. However, the BEPS project has witnessed the transition of global tax governance from the OECD countries exclusively to global fora. This leaves open questions regarding agenda-setting for international tax policy going forward. As we conclude this interim snapshot of the origins, standards, and responses to BEPS to date, we look to future IFA congresses for answers to these questions and a final assessment of the BEPS project.
 

Tagged as: BEPS OECD research scholarship tax policy

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Tax Sovereignty in the BEPS Era

Published Jun 17, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Kluwer law has recently published Tax Sovereignty in the BEPS Era, a collection of contributions I co-edited with Sergio Rocha, in which we and a slate of authors from a range of countries explore the impact of the BEPS initiative on "tax sovereignty"--which I take to mean the autonomy that nations seek to exercise over tax policy. Here is the description:

Tax Sovereignty in the BEPS Era focuses on how national tax sovereignty has been impacted by recent developments in international taxation, notably following the OECD/G-20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project. The power of a country to freely design its tax system is generally understood to be an integral feature of sovereignty. However, as an inevitable result of globalization and income mobility, one country’s exercise of tax sovereignty often overlaps, interferes with or even impedes that of another. In this collection of chapters, internationally respected practitioners and academics reveal how the OECD’s BEPS initiative, although a major step in the right direction, is insufficient in resolving the tax sovereignty paradox. Each contribution deals with different facets of a single topic: How tax sovereignty is shaped in a post-BEPS world.
And here is the table of contents:
Part I The Essential Paradox of Tax Sovereignty
  • CH 1: BEPS and the Power to Tax, Allison Christians          
  • CH 2: Tax Sovereignty and Digital Economy in Post-BEPS Times, Ramon Tomazela Santos & Sergio André Rocha
  • CH 3: Justification and Implementation of the International Allocation of Taxing Rights: Can We Take One Thing at a Time?, Luís Eduardo Schoueri & Ricardo André Galendi Júnior
  • CH 4: An Essay on BEPS, Sovereignty, and Taxation, Yariv Brauner

Part II    Challenge to the Foundational Principles of Source and Residence
  • CH 5: Evaluating BEPS, Reuven S. Avi-Yonah & Haiyan Xu
  • CH 6: Jurisdictional Excesses in BEPS’ Times: National Appropriation of an Enhanced Global Tax Basis, Guillermo O. Teijeiro
  • CH 7: Taxing the Consumption of Digital Goods, Aleksandra Bal

Part III  Acceptance and Implementation of Consensus by Differently-Situated States
  • CH 8: The Birth of a New International Tax Framework and the Role of Developing Countries, Natalia Quiñones
  • CH 9: The Other Side of BEPS: “Imperial Taxation” and “International Tax Imperialism”, Sergio André Rocha
  • CH 10: Country-by-Country Over-Reporting? National Sovereignty, International Tax Transparency, and the Inclusive Framework on BEPS, Romero J.S. Tavares
  • CH 11; How Are We Doing with BEPS Recommendations in the EU?, Tomas Balco & Xeniya Yeroshenko      
  • CH 12: U.S. Tax Sovereignty and the BEPS Project, Tracy A. Kaye 
And finally, here is a brief description:

The book unfolds in three parts. The first, The Essential Paradox of Tax Sovereignty, features four chapters.

  • In chapter 1, Christians introduces the topic by demonstrating how BEPS arose from the paradox of tax sovereignty and analyzing why multilateral cooperation and soft law consensus became the preferred solutions to a loss of autonomy over national tax policy. The chapter concludes that without meaningful multilateralism in the development of global tax norms, the paradox of tax sovereignty will necessarily continue and worsen, preventing resolution of identified problems for the foreseeable future. 
  • Tomazela &; Rocha pick up this thread in chapter 2, where they demonstrate that BEPS addresses the symptoms, but not the problems, of the sovereignty paradox. In their view, the central defining problem of this paradox is an ill-defined jurisdiction concept. The chapter demonstrates why tax policymakers need to change the conventional wisdom on sovereignty in order to incorporate new nexus connections due to the changing nature of trade and commerce. 
  •  In chapter 3, Schoueri & Galendi further the inquiry by providing a detailed analysis of the interaction of contemporary cooperation efforts with the sovereignty of states in light of historical claims in economic allegiance, economic neutrality and now cooperation against abusive behaviour. 
  • Brauner rounds out this first part in chapter 4, which establishes the evolution of the concept of tax sovereignty. The chapter proposes an instrumental role for sovereignty in the process of improving cooperation and coordination of tax policies among productive (non-tax haven) countries, to balance claims and serve as a safeguard against political (in this case international) chaos. Brauner concludes that such a change to the business of international tax law would ensure at least an opportunity for all participants to succeed on their own terms. 

 Part Two of the book, Challenge to the Foundational Principles of Source and Residence, takes an in depth look at why residence and source continue to be the two essential building blocks of tax sovereignty and the backbone of the international tax system, surviving BEPS but still subject to multiple challenges in theory and practice.

  • In chapter 5, Avi-Yonah & Xu argue that BEPS simply cannot succeed in solving the sovereignty paradox because BEPS follows the flawed theory of the benefits principle in assigning the jurisdiction to tax. Avi-Yonah and Xu therefore make a compelling argument that for the international tax regime to flourish in the face of sovereign and autonomous states, countries must commit to full residence-based taxation of active income with a foreign tax credit granted for source-based taxation. 
  • In chapter 6, Tejeiro continues the analysis of the fundamental jurisdictional building blocks, demonstrating that by resorting to legal fictions within BEPS and beyond it, states are attempting to enlarge the scope of their personal or economic nexus, or to grasp taxable events and bases beyond their proper reach under well-settled international law rules and principles. 
  • Bal furthers the discussion in chapter 7, with an analysis of how digital commerce has upended traditional notions of source and residence. Bal advocates the consumer's usual residence as a good approximation of the place of actual consumption and therefore the best-justified place of taxation. 

Part Three of the book, Acceptance and Implementation by Differently-Situated States, considers tax sovereignty after BEPS from a range of perspectives. Chapters 8 through 10 focus on perspectives from lower income or developing countries, while chapters 11 and 12 review the landscape from the perspective of Europe and the United States, respectively.

  • In chapter 8, Quinones explores how developing countries might take advantage of the new international tax architecture, developed for purposes of coordinating the BEPS action plans, to ensure that their voices are truly shaping the standards. She argues that the knowledge gap between developing and developed is getting narrower instead of wider, with major negative impacts expected for the international tax order. 
  • Rocha continues this discussion in chapter 9, with a proposal: instead of simply accepting the BEPS Project’s recommendations and their reliance on historical decisions about what constitutes a country’s “fair share of tax”, developing countries should join in the formation of a Developing Countries’ International Tax Regime to focus discourse on the rightful limits of states’ taxing powers. 
  • Furthering the theme of autonomous priority-setting, in chapter 10 Tavares focuses in on a key part of the BEPS consensus, exploring whether implementing the CBCR standard, without a deeper transfer pricing reform, should be viewed as a priority in every country. He further questions whether this particular initiative, even if important, is worthy of mobilization of the scarce resources of developing countries. Tavares concludes with an incisive review of the role of the inclusive framework in prioritizing some needs over others. 
  • Balco & Yeroshenko then consider BEPS implementation from the very different perspective of the EU in chapter 11. The chapter demonstrates that even within the EU, BEPS implementation is not straightforward, as the interests of member states sometimes conflict and the basic notion of tax sovereignty remains fundamental even while tax coordination and harmonization across the EU expands. However, the authors note that the progress made in the last several years on key cooperation norms, which was largely inspired by BEPS, has been unprecedented. 
  • Finally, Kaye provides a capstone to the book in chapter 12, where she makes the convincing case that although some in the United States saw the BEPS Project as a threat to US tax sovereignty, this project was in fact necessary in order for the United States to effectively wield its tax sovereignty. Kaye’s chapter thus ends the book with a clear picture of the ongoing paradox of tax sovereignty in the world after BEPS.

Tagged as: BEPS scholarship sovereignty tax competition tax policy

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The Seven Rules for Tax Research, Now Ten

Published Dec 02, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

The OECD released the multilateral instrument (MLI) on tax, so (assuming that at least five countries ratify it), we have to revise the old rules for doing tax research. The MLI means that any given tax situation will be impacted by relevant statutes, relevant tax treaties, and the portions of the MLI that are in effect as to those treaties. So here they are, the revised rules for tax research:




You can find the text of the MLI here. The Explanatory Statement, also at that link, is so far only in English.

Three months after five countries ratify, the MLI will be in effect; subsequent accessions will take effect one month after ratification. However, as to optional provisions, no substantive changes take effect until both parties notify which provisions they intend to apply to which of their treaties. 

The OECD has designed three types of provisions and explains how they relate to existing tax treaties. Here are my notes to self:



Much more analysis to do obviously, but my first cut at this is to try to understand the process of integrating the MLI into the existing tax law order. 

Tagged as: international law MLI OECD research treaties

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OECD seeking "technical" input from the public on "multilateral instrument" to modify tax treaties

Published Jun 08, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

The OECD recently released what it calls a "public discussion draft" in connection with its work on the multilateral instrument (MLI), and seeks public input until June 30. As I explained in a post a  few months ago, the MLI is be used to 'modify' all existing tax treaties in force among signatory countries to conform to BEPS standards and recommendations. However, the released document is not actually a discussion draft of the MLI--there are no terms to be reviewed. The drafting committee, which currently includes 96 members (OECD members and "BEPS Associates"), only met for the first time two weeks ago so this is decidedly not a draft of substantive provisions to be debated in the public discourse. No, that would be chaos and contrary to the plan:

"the draft text of the multilateral instrument is the subject of intergovernmental discussions in a confidential setting."
Instead it is in effect a crowdsourced, and very carefully framed, issue-spotting exercise. The document consists of three pages: page one is the BEPS narrative (why the OECD undertook this project and what has happened so far). Page two describes what BEPS changes will be covered in the MLI once drafted. Page three lays out three "technical issues" the OECD faces in drafting the MLI, and finally gives the call for input. The discussion is very brief and in OECD-passive-speak so it's almost comical to summarize but here are the three issues, as I understand them:
  1. the MLI must be able to modify existing treaties, and this will be done with "compatibility clauses."
  2. the MLI will be broadly worded so will require commentary and maybe explanatory notes for consistent interpretation
  3. the MLI will be in French and English but will interpret thousands of treaties written in different languages.
These are all very interesting international law issues and not technical tax law issues at all. They are also clear expressions of intent to cement the OECD's role as the principal curator of international tax norms. This is especially clear in respect of point 2, because consistent interpretation means that the OECD commentary and "guidance" must harden ("ossify") into more persuasive and ultimately binding legal authority. For a discussion of what that implies for the rule of law, see this old thing I wrote a long time ago.

Point 1 raises the issue that seems to me most difficult in terms of the transition to complete OECD domination of global tax policy: I am still not sure how the MLI is supposed to work on top of a network of individualized and distinct bilateral agreements among sovereign nations. The OECD says "If undertaken on a treaty-by-treaty basis, the sheer number of treaties in effect would make such a process very lengthy." Indeed it would but as a matter of law in many countries, revising an existing international agreement requires another international agreement that is ratified in the same manner as the original, which appears to require the signatories to come to a meeting of the minds as to the terms that govern their unique relationship. The OECD says that distinguished experts have carefully considered the public international law questions at hand. But I haven't seen any study and I don't quite understand how you get a coherent international tax law regime in anything like a "quick" process. The OECD's implied answer in point 1 only raises another question for me: what is a compatibility clause? Is this a well-understood mechanism in play in other areas of international law? Can I get a precedent somewhere to anticipate where we are going with this?

Further, is the MLI going to be a matchmaking exercise in practice? If country A agrees to revisions 1 through 6 as to countries B and C, but only revision 5 as to country D, and country B agrees to revisions 1-3 for countries A and D but only 5 and 6 for C, and countries C and D agree in principle but never ratify anything, then what, exactly, are the agreements between and among these countries?

I am also not sure what the agreement matrix looks like when there are multiple standards for several of the BEPS items.  Notably the "prevent treaty shopping" minimum standard provides multiple choices for defending treaties against "abuse": a principal purpose test, a limitation on benefits provision, an anti-conduit provision, or some combination. May each of countries A, B, C, and D choose a different combination vis a vis each of the others? It is difficult to see convergence. At the panel I attended in Montreal a couple of weeks ago this was a topic of vigorous discussion. The more I think about this, the increasingly uncertain I become regarding how this is going to work out in practice.

Any thoughts on these observations are welcome as I develop my thinking on these issues. And if you are submitting comments, please note:
 Comments and input should be submitted by 30 June 2016 at the latest, and should be sent by email to multilateralinstrument@oecd.org in Word format (in order to facilitate their distribution to government officials). Please note that all comments received will be made publicly available. ... Persons and organisations who submit comments on this document are invited to indicate whether they wish to speak in support of their comments at a public consultation meeting that is scheduled to be held in Paris at the OECD Conference Centre on 7 July 2016 beginning at 10.00 am.






Tagged as: BEPS international law OECD tax policy treaties

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What does it mean to implement BEPS?

Published May 26, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Today I took part in a panel discussing the topic of "Life After BEPS," at which I laid out the three categories of BEPS commitments in three slides. These categories are "minimum standards" (there are four), "recommendations" (there are several) and "best practices" (there are many). These are defined terms in BEPS world but it is already fascinating that there is some category blurring going on in the discourse surrounding implementation. I'm interested in that blurring because of course we are in the midst of a major cycle of law- and norm-making in international tax, and "what countries actually agreed upon" is really going to matter pretty soon, as the difference between convergence and divergence depends on a meeting of the minds at the level of rulemaking. This will play out through conflict and resolution at the domestic and international level in the form of both hard law (multilateral and bilateral agreements and domestic law changes) and soft law (OECD models, guidelines, and peer monitoring). In case they are of interest, I thought I would post my three slides here.




Tagged as: BEPS conference international law OECD

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Kill Switches in the New US Model Tax Treaty

Published May 17, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

I posted previously on the new US Model, which was released in February of this year; I've now posted my article, co-written with McGill PhD student Alex Ezenagu, on the "kill switch" provisions in the new model. These provisions are found in the new articles and definitions involving special tax regimes and subsequent law changes, which would allow countries to switch on and off specified treaty benefits if their treaty partners get too aggressive in the ongoing race to the bottom on tax.

Here is the abstract:

The new US model income tax treaty contains an unusual addition: mechanisms for the parties to unilaterally override the negotiated treaty rates in specified circumstances. Previewed last year in proposed form—a first for Treasury—these new mechanisms work as kill-switches, partially terminating the treaty as to one or both treaty partners. The idea is to forestall a more problematic outcome, such as an enduring breach of one of the parties’ expectations, or the opposite, a complete termination of all the treaty terms in the face of such a breach. Yet embedding a kill-switch in a treaty creates distinct legal, procedural, and political pressures in the tax-treaty relationship that implicate treaty negotiation, ratification, interpretation, and dispute resolution. Kill-switches also communicate a defensive tenor in the tax treaty relationships among many countries. This Article analyzes the new kill-switch provisions and concludes that their introduction in the U.S. Model reflects the steady deterioration of tax treaties from essentially diplomatic documents premised on the good faith of the parties to detailed contracts drafted in anticipation of the opposite.
It has long been assumed that tax treaties are uncontroversially technical agreements that no one outside of tax circles cares about or pays attention to--including, it seems, all too many lawmakers tasked with adopting these agreements into law. But with the US Treasury and the EU competition commissioner trading barbs over the fence about what seems right or fair when it comes to global tax competition and coordination, this assumption might be changing. The consensus built up over decades by OECD nations is under stress as the pressure for coherence in the international tax realm increases. Treasury released these provisions in draft from last fall, expressly in order to influence the OECD's work on BEPS. Now that the provisions are in the model, it remains to be seen how they will play out as BEPS, currently at a mid-cycle of norm making, moves from the articulation of principles to the implementation phase. This article doesn't provide answers or predictions about the future but it examines one aspect of the ongoing contestation and tries to situate it in historical and contemporary terms.

Tagged as: institutions international law offshore scholarship tax policy treaties US

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Azémar and Dharmapala on Tax Sparing and Foreign Aid

Published May 05, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Céline Azémar  and Dhammika Dharmapala recently posted "Tax Sparing, FDI, and Foreign Aid: Evidence from Territorial Tax Reforms," of interest. Tax sparing refers to the intentional exemption of income from tax by two countries working cooperatively. The idea of tax sparing is to ensure that tax incentives granted to investors by source countries are not “cancelled out” by income taxation in the residence country. This is typically accomplished by ensuring that the residence country gives credit for the amount of tax that would have normally been paid to the source country, instead of a reduced (or eliminated) amount that was actually paid according to an incentive scheme. In other words, tax sparing is treaty-based double nontaxation.

Here is an example of tax sparing from Article 21 of the 1993 tax treaty between Indonesia and the United Kingdom,:

For the purposes of paragraph (1) of this Article, the term “Indonesian tax payable” shall be deemed to include any amount which would have been payable as Indonesian tax for any year but for an exemption or reduction of tax granted for the year….”    
In this type of provision, an amount of tax would be credited by the taxpayer’s home country (presumably the UK) in accordance with the standard double tax relief provisions of the treaty even though not ultimately paid to the source country (presumably Indonesia).

If the residence country does not tax foreign income (i.e., is an exemption or territorial system as the UK is now), tax sparing would be pointless since the incentive in the source country accomplishes the desired result of nontaxation unilaterally. Yet this paper finds a surprising result: tax sparing increases FDI even after a treaty partner switches to a territorial system.

Here is the abstract:
The governments of many developing countries seek to attract inbound foreign direct investment (FDI) through the use of tax incentives for multinational corporations (MNCs). The effectiveness of these tax incentives depends crucially on MNCs' residence country tax regime, especially where the residence country imposes worldwide taxation on foreign income. Tax sparing provisions are included in many bilateral tax treaties to prevent host country tax incentives being nullified by residence country taxation. 
We analyse the impact of tax sparing provisions using panel data on bilateral FDI stocks from 23 OECD countries in 113 developing and transition economies over the period 2002-2012, coding tax sparing provisions in all bilateral tax treaties among these countries. We find that tax sparing agreements are associated with 30 percent to 123 percent higher FDI. The estimated effect is concentrated in the year that tax sparing comes into force and the subsequent years, with no effects in prior years, and is thus consistent with a causal interpretation. 
Four countries - Norway in 2004, and the U.K., Japan, and New Zealand in 2009 - enacted tax reforms that moved them from worldwide to territorial taxation, potentially changing the value of their preexisting tax sparing agreements. However, there is no detectable effect of these reforms on bilateral FDI in tax sparing countries, relative to nonsparing countries. 
These results are consistent with tax sparing being an important determinant of FDI in developing countries for MNCs from both worldwide and territorial home countries. We also find that these territorial reforms are associated with increases in certain forms of bilateral foreign aid from residence countries to sparing countries, relative to nonsparing countries. This suggests that tax sparing and foreign aid may function as substitutes.
The link to foreign aid is intriguing: it looks like compensation for the loss of a benefit. The OECD's Action Plans to counter BEPS are specifically designed to eliminate benefits like those created by tax sparing provisions. Is BEPS the end of tax sparing? If so, will BEPS also result in increased foreign aid?


Tagged as: BEPS scholarship tax policy treaties

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