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?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."
Some Hon. Senators: No.
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
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.
Tagged as: BEPS Canada MLI scholarship
This Article examines international law limitations on the ascription of citizenship in the context of U.S. taxation of non-resident citizens. U.S. citizenship practice is exceptionally generous, extending citizenship to almost all persons in its territory at the moment of birth. At the same time that it is generous at the front end, U.S. citizenship is sticky at the back. Termination of citizenship on the individual’s part involves substantial fees and tax compliance. It is difficult to shed a citizenship one may never have wanted in the first place.
This stickiness would be inconsequential if few costs were associated with the status. But the United States taxes its citizens on a worldwide basis. The 2010 enactment of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act has ramped up historically lax enforcement and imposes substantial administrative burdens on even middle-earner citizens abroad.
In this frame, U.S. birthright citizenship and expatriation regimes may violate international norms, especially with respect to those "accidental Americans" who departed the United States as children. Even in the context of extremely relaxed historical constraints on state nationality practice, there were acknowledged nineteenth century limitations on the extension of citizenship to individuals with insufficient connection to a state -- citizenship over-claiming, as it were. The article also describes the historical requirement that naturalization be volitional, a norm now appropriately applied in some cases in the context of birthright citizenship.
To the extent the ascription of U.S. citizenship compromises individual rights, there are tax fixes and there are citizenship fixes. Citizenship fixes include opt-in and opt-out mechanisms for birthright citizenship. The better solution may lie in frictionless exit for those with nominal ties to the national community. Though reform is more likely to be accomplished through the tax regime, the moment highlights the over-inclusiveness of U.S. citizenship and the growing salience of international law to citizenship practices.I'm less confident than Peter that reform will ever be delivered through the tax regime, but I am very glad to see this important contribution to the growing literature focusing on the citizenship/taxation link.
States have complex and often conflicted attitudes toward migration and citizenship. These attitudes are not always directly expressed by lawmakers, but they may be reflected quite explicitly in tax regimes: for the world’s most prosperous individuals and their families, multiple states extend a warm welcome. Sometimes prospective migrants are offered fast track to physical residence which can lead to citizenship if the migrant desires it. Others are offered a mere commercial transaction, with citizenship granted to applicants with the right credentials and a willingness to pay. Migrants might seek to obtain residency or citizenship for personal, family, economic, or tax reasons, or some combination of them. For the granting country, the tax significance of obtaining new residents or citizens will vary depending on domestic policy goals. However, the consequences of residence and citizenship by investment programs could be severe for the international tax regime: the jurisdiction to tax and the allocation of taxing rights among countries are commonly based on residence and citizenship factors. This article accordingly surveys contemporary residence and citizenship by investment programs on offer around the world and analyzes their potential impact on international tax policy.
* update: I've found a couple of additional programs (e.g. France has a lower cost program, making it less of an outlier)--thank you twitterverse) and I've corrected a few currency conversion errors. This is still a work in progress as previously noted, and I expect to be revising again in the coming weeks.
I've been working on residence and citizenship by investment programs, and thanks to some stellar research assistance by Jake Heyka, have developed a set of data comprising what I believe is a fairly thorough look at the residence and citizenship by investment programs currently on offer around the world. I made the above infographic to show the lowest cost program per country for all countries that offer either residence or citizenship by investment.
The lowest cost residence by investment programs are offered by Panama and Paraguay, each coming in at about USD$5,000, while the most expensive is
One of the things I wondered about in looking over the programs is the inequality factor at play--that is, how much can richer/larger countries demand in terms of higher prices and more stringent requirements (such as actual residence) for entry, and how much must poorer/smaller countries be satisfied with smaller investments and fewer commitments by the applicant? The answer seems to be that there appears definitely a "rich get richer" quality to the distinctions among programs, but there are lots of details in the programs that require further thought.
The paper itself is still in progress but here is an explanation of what I am looking at:
International law and political theory scholars have long wrestled with the normative implications of commodifying citizenship and access to immigration with pay-to-play visa programs, but the analysis does not typically consider the role the tax system plays or could play in these schemes, nor how such schemes might impact the tax regime in terms of gross revenue or distributional effect. Yet governments increasingly view their tax systems as a means of potentially increasing the value of residence and citizenship in their countries, whether intrinsically or in relation to the treatment of those who gain such status by other means. Given the cost involved in reducing revenue from those arguably most able to pay, whether the programs actually produce the predicted outcomes is one obvious question to be asked. Even if the programs in fact achieve their goals, a second question surely arises regarding the normative justification for using the tax system to lure the wealthy away from other countries in this manner. Does the normative case differ when applied to humans as opposed to companies? Does it differ when the luring state is richer or poorer relative to the countries of origin of prospective immigrants? To sketch out a framework for analyzing these questions requires a sense of the various competing programs on offer. This essay takes the first step by comparing national programs that use their taxing power in some manner in order to attract immigration, and highlights some of the factors that raise normative questions about the appropriate design and uses of a tax system.Comments welcome.
Tagged as: migration research tax policy
I've posted on SSRN a new work in progress and two recently published works on the topic of taxation and human rights:
Human Rights at the Borders of Tax Sovereignty
Tax scholarship typically presumes the state’s power to tax and therefore rarely concerns itself with analyzing which relationships between a government and a potential taxpayer normatively justify taxation, and which do not. This paper presents the case for undertaking such an analysis as a matter of the state’s obligation to observe and protect fundamental human rights. It begins by examining existing frameworks for understanding how a taxpayer population is and ought to be defined. It then analyzes potential harms created by an improperly expansive taxpayer category, and those created by excluding from consideration those beyond the polity even if directly impacted by the tax regime. It concludes that a modified membership principle is a more acceptable framework for normative analysis of the jurisdiction to tax, even while acknowledging the overwhelming weight of existing perceptions about the bounds of the polity and the state-citizen relationship as significant barriers to acceptance.Taxpayer Rights in Canada
Canada is one of many countries where taxpayer rights are becoming an increasingly common topic of discourse among policymakers, practitioners, and the public. Especially in light of recent developments regarding the global expansion of taxpayer information exchange, the role of taxpayer privacy and confidentiality rights have emerged as significant legal issues. This chapter surveys the contemporary theoretical, legal, and political landscape of taxpayer rights in Canada. Part I outlines the theoretical and legal sources from which taxpayers may be said to have rights. Part II examines Canada’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and considers some of the historical, legal, and political issues that give rise to their core principles. Part III focuses in on the taxpayer’s right to privacy and confidentiality in the context of evolving global trends surrounding the use and exchange of taxpayer information. The Chapter concludes with some observations about where taxpayer rights may be headed in Canada.Taxpayer Rights in the United States
Despite abundant sources of legal and quasi-legal protection against abuses of individual rights and freedoms, there are areas of contention regarding respect for taxpayer rights in the United States. This chapter lays out the framework of taxpayer rights and considers their meaning by considering a contemporary case, namely, the recent expansion of citizenship-based taxation through globally enforced financial asset reporting and information exchange. Part I outlines the theoretical and legal sources from which taxpayers may be said to have rights. Part II examines the US Taxpayer Bill of Rights and considers some of the historical, legal, and political issues that give rise to their core principles. Part III focuses in on the taxpayer’s right to be informed in the context of citizenship-based taxation in a globalized world. The Chapter concludes with some observations about where taxpayer rights may be headed in the United States.
Tagged as: fairness justice scholarship sovereignty tax policy
My own view is that a switch to deductibility would increases pressure on capital importing countries to reduce their source-based taxes (a deduction does not fully offset the foreign tax, so it would make such taxes more costly to US firms as compared to fully creditable foreign taxes), and therefore transfer revenues from poor to rich countries. Deferral already places tremendous tax competition pressure on host countries, while ending it might enable some countries (to which US capital is a major source of inbound investment) to increase their source-based taxation (as explained in this paper). Therefore I was happy to see this FP&S paper give additional support to the beleaguered tax credit while still recognizing that there is such a thing as giving too much credit.
I was also intrigued to see FP&S begin their paper by picking up Reuven Avi-Yonah's premise that taxation on the basis of residence and source is customary international law. That is not only a relatively unusual argument to find in a US-authorized tax paper, but it is a potentially controversial perspective, which I am exploring in a paper of my own (making the international law case against citizenship based taxation). So, thank you Fleming, Peroni and Shay, for the additional citation support for my arguments.
It is also worth noting that FP&S include in this paper a defense of the corporate income tax in the form of footnote 200, which spans more than a page in tiny but useful print. It summarizes the main points regarding why corporate tax is necessary as a backstop to individual income taxation, citing to the main arguments for and against, thus serving as a valuable micro treatise on the subject.
Finally, I note that FP&S only give the FTC two cheers instead of three because they feel that it conflicts with the principle of ability to pay, an argument I have not seen before and that gives me pause. Their argument is that foreign taxes are a cost to individuals attendant to investing abroad, and that crediting these taxes is too generous from the perspective of fairness, that a deduction would sufficiently account for the cost in terms of measuring ability to pay. I can understand that argument where the FTC is itself too generous, allowing cross-crediting and not restricting its application to double taxation. But I do not understand that argument applied to an FTC that restricts itself to a dollar for dollar credit of actual taxes paid, which I believe is the argument being advanced here. That's something to think about a little more.
In any event, abstract below and paper at the link above. Well worth a read.
Reform of the U.S. international income taxation system has been a hotly debated topic for many years. The principal competing alternatives are a territorial or exemption system and a worldwide system. For reasons summarized in this Article, we favor worldwide taxation if it is real worldwide taxation; that is, a nondeferred U.S. tax is imposed on all foreign income of U.S. residents at the time the income is earned. However, this approach is not acceptable unless the resulting double taxation is alleviated. The longstanding U.S. approach for handling the international double taxation problem is a foreign tax credit limited to the U.S. levy on the taxpayer’s foreign income. Indeed, the foreign tax credit is an essential element of the case for worldwide taxation. Moreover, territorial systems often apply worldwide taxation with a foreign tax credit to all income of resident individuals as well as the passive income and tax haven income of resident corporations. Thus, the foreign tax credit also is an important feature of many territorial systems. The foreign tax credit has been subjected to sharp criticisms though, and Professor Daniel Shaviro has recently proposed replacing the credit with a combination of a deduction for foreign taxes and a reduced U.S. tax rate on foreign income.
In this Article, we respond to the criticisms and argue that the foreign tax credit is a robust and effective device. Furthermore, we respectfully explain why Professor Shaviro’s proposal is not an adequate substitute. We also explore an overlooked aspect of the foreign tax credit—its role as an allocator of the international tax base between residence and source countries—and we explain the credit’s effectiveness in carrying out this role. Nevertheless, we point out that the credit merits only two cheers because it goes beyond the requirements of the ability-to-pay principle that underlies use of an income base for imposing tax (instead of a consumption base). Ultimately, the credit is the preferred approach for mitigating international double taxation of income.
I am occasionally asked for a list of the things I've written or presented about FATCA and citizenship-based taxation, and decided I may as well post it here. I have a newer article on the adoption of the IGA in Canada, will post that soon and add to this list.
- Uncle Sam Wants...Who? A Global Perspective on Citizenship Taxation (explaining the expansive US tax jurisdiction and its consequences on citizens abroad)
- Understanding the Accidental American—Tina’s Story (describing the “gotcha” of CBT and FATCA)
- Paperwork and Punishment: It’s Time to Fix FBAR (explaining FBAR, its mission creep, and its effects on USPersons living abroad)
- Taxpayer Rights, On and Off-shore (exploring tax complexity and compliance for nonresident US Persons)
- Regulating Tax Preparers: A Global Problem for the IRS (exploring the problem of regulating the tax compliance industry outside the US territory)
- Could a Same Country Exception Help Fix FATCA and FBAR? (calling for exemption of local accounts held by nonresident US Persons from FATCA reporting; third item in a compilation; scroll to p. 7 of the document).
- Two expert reports in connection with the Hillis v. Attorney General of Canada litigation.
- Submission to Finance Department on Implementation of FATCA in Canada (discussing legal issues with proposed adoption of IGA)
- What You Give And What You Get: Reciprocity under a Model 1 IGA (explaining asymmetrical account disclosure and sharing requirements)
- Tax Cooperation: Past, Present and Future (explaining why FATCA is a tax treaty override & the IGAs do not “cure” it)
- The Dubious Legal Nature of IGAs and Why it Matters (arguing that the IGAs violate the US constitution regarding the treaty power, and thereby implicate public international law as to the treaties they ostensibly interpret)
- Interpretation or Override: Introducing the Hybrid Tax Agreement (further analysis on the public international law problems created by the IGAs)
- Putting the Reign Back in Sovereign: Advice to the Second Obama Administration (analyzing FATCA’s unilateral nature and its implications for international tax policy)
- Interview with Tax Analysts (November 2015)
- Podcast with the McGill Law Journal (February 2014)
- Testimony to Finance Committee (March 2014)
- Interview with CBC News (January 2014)
- Interview with CBC Radio "All in a Day" (July 2014)
- Explaining the basic structure and issues surrounding FATCA (2012-prior to the IGA era)
Tagged as: citizenship FATCA scholarship tax policy
This week I will be in Vancouver to present a paper at the UBC Allard School of Law. The paper, "Uncle Sam Wants...Who? A Global Perspective on Citizenship Taxation," is now available in draft form on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Across the globe, banks are flagging accounts with indicia indicating their owners may be “US Persons,” making it possible for the United States to enforce its taxation of nonresident citizens extraterritorially for the first time in history. The indicia method constitutes a mining expedition for US citizens carried out by foreign banks and governments. Establishing a tax jurisdiction in this manner is unprecedented and has significant practical and normative consequences. In the case of so-called “accidental Americans,” it violates one of the most fundamental and universally- acknowledged tenets of taxpayer rights, namely, the right to be informed about what the law requires. Third party indicia-searching should be universally rejected as a means of identifying a taxpayer population. Instead, the United States itself is responsible for cataloguing, informing, and educating its global population of taxpayers. Those who don’t belong in the system should be allowed to opt out without cost.I welcome comments on this work in progress.
Tax Analysts has published my talk on taxpayer rights and citizenship-based taxation as enforced via FATCA, which I gave in November at the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Washington DC, organized by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Tax Analysts' content is normally gated but they have made this column available on their free site.
Tagged as: citizenship compliance fairness FATCA human rights tax policy US
I recently sat down with Bob Goulder of Tax Analysts to talk about FATCA, citizenship-based taxation, renunciation, and taxpayer rights.
Tagged as: FATCA human rights justice tax policy US
This week at the University of Michigan Law School, Reuven Avi-Yonah and I are co-hosting an academic workshop on the topic of citizenship and taxation. Because it is a workshop, most of the papers are still in draft and won't be publicly available for some time. However, we will be doing a writeup of the proceedings and I'll post that when it is available, and of course I'll post when the symposium volume is published. Here are the speakers and topics:
- Reuven Avi-Yonah (Michigan) Constructive Unilateralism : US Leadership and International Taxation
- Allison Christians (McGill) Uncle Sam Wants … Who?
- Wei Cui (UBC) Residence and Source as Interconnected Concepts
- Tessa Davis (South Carolina) Of Tax Crimes and “Bad” Citizens: How the Role of Tax Law in Making a Citizen Informs Tax Law and Policy
- Jane Frecknall-Hughes (Hull) Tax and the citizen: the philosophical underpinnings
- Christine Harlen (Leeds) Making America Exceptional: Perfectionist Civic Republicanism and the Taxation of Americans Abroad in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920
- Michael Kirsch (Notre Dame) The Taxation (or Non-Taxation) of Citizens’ Foreign Income: Distilling the Competing Normative Arguments
- Sagit Leviner (Ono) Citizenship Transcendent
- Patrick Martin (Procopio) Tax Simplification: The Need for Consistent Tax Treatment of All Individuals (Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Non-Citizens regardless of immigrant status) Residing Overseas, Including the Repeal of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation
- Ruth Mason (Virginia) Citizenship Taxation
- Linneu Mello (Bichara) How the Brazilian Tax Authorities Control Information and What FATCA Has To Do With It
- Henry Ordower (St. Louis) Is the Expatriation Tax Constitutional? Mark to Market and the Macomber Conundrum
- Adam Rosenzweig (Washington St. Louis) Once a US Person, Always a US Person
- Daniel Shaviro (NYU) Taxing Potential Community Members’ Foreign Source Income
- Peter Spiro (Temple) Citizenship Overreach and the U.S. Tax Regime
- Saul Templeton (Calgary) Bill C-51, FATCA, and the End of Taxpayer Privacy
- Edward Zelinsky (Cardozo) The Problems of Defining Residence: The U.S. Experience
- Montano Cabezas (Georgetown) Reasons for Citizenship-Based Taxation?
- Christine Kim (NYU) Considering “Citizenship Taxation” : In Defense of FATCA
- Gene Magidenko (UMich) – A Defense of Citizenship Taxation
- Gianluca Mazzoni (Brescia) The Interaction Between FATCA and Data Privacy
- Miguel Nicolas (UParis) FATCA and International Law