Thursday, May 5, 2016

Azémar and Dharmapala on Tax Sparing and Foreign Aid

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?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This Friday in London: Conference on The Changing Shape of Tax Avoidance

This Friday, I'll be in London participating in a conference on tax avoidance and evasion, hosted by the Journal of Tax Administration. Here is the program:

11.00 – 11.15 Welcome and Introduction

11.15 – 11.50 Matthew Rablen: Optimal Income Tax Enforcement in the Presence of Tax Avoidance

11.50 – 12.25 Maya Forstater: Can Stopping ‘Tax Dodging’ by Multinational Enterprises Close the Gap in Development Finance?

12.25 – 13.00 Allison Christians: Tax Avoidance in a World of Aggressive Tax States

13.00 – 13.45 Lunch

13.45 – 14.15 Federica Bardini: The “Ius Commune Europeum” on Tax Avoidance

14.15 - 14.45 Shu-Chien Chen: The Common Pattern of the “Tax Avoidance Concept” in the EU and USA

14.45 – 15.00 Discussion

15.00 – 15.20 Break

15.20 – 15.55 David Duff: Tax Avoidance – Causes, Consequences and Responses

15.55 – 16.30 David Quentin: Tax Risk Mining and Corporate Responsibility for Human Rights

The venue for this conference is Friends House, 173 – 177 Euston Road, London.

Here is the abstract for my presentation:
Tax Avoidance in a World of Aggressive Tax States 
Media coverage of tax “dodging” by high profile elites and multinational companies leads the public to believe that tax avoidance happens when individuals act to thwart the efforts of the state. Confined to the domestic arena this may be an apt description, and a problem anti-avoidance regimes are designed to solve. But on an international scale, tax avoidance is not a one-person show. Instead, it involves interactions among four types of actors: individuals, home states, host states, and intermediary states. International tax avoidance persists largely because home, host, and intermediary states intentionally use their tax systems to lure investment away from other jurisdictions that impose higher tax burdens, and individuals do their best to exploit available opportunities to the fullest. In deciding whether and how law should be used to prevent international tax avoidance, the goals and interests of each of the four actors must be examined.

Kadet and Koontz: Are US MNCs profit shifting their way to "accidental partnership" status?

Jeffery Kadet and David Koontz have posted a new paper on SSRN entitled Profit-Shifting Structures and Unexpected Partnership Status, in which they argue that the way US-based MNCs share profits and risks with their global subsidiaries might actually result in their being in partnership with these companies for tax purposes, thus triggering interesting potential US tax consequences for the whole group.  Here is the abstract:
Many U.S.- and foreign-based MNCs that have implemented carefully researched tax strategies to reduce their income taxes are coming under increased scrutiny. Most MNC tax strategies involve businesses they conduct worldwide, but which are managed from the U.S. These strategies have several factors in common: 
(i) Companies established in tax havens or otherwise structured to attract little if any tax;
(ii) Intercompany agreements placing commercial risk and intangibles in such companies, thereby shifting profits to such companies;
(iii) Conduct of centralized activities and functions in the U.S. (in addition to group senior management), which are integral to and which critically benefit all MNC group members conducting that line of business (examples of such activities include product development, product sourcing, management of contract manufacturing process, management and control of internet platforms, etc.); and
(iv) No significant changes made to their business operations when tax strategies were implemented, meaning potentially that these structures lack economic substance.
This article suggests that in their haste to create these profit-shifting structures, the MNCs and their advisors may have overlooked two important weapons in the IRS’s arsenal to attack profit-shifting strategies. 
First, because of the centralized activities and functions within the U.S. that are integral to the business conducted by various group members (including both U.S. and foreign group members), an MNC may inadvertently create through its actions and intercompany contracts a partnership that is recognized solely for U.S. tax purposes. Once such a partnership exists for tax purposes, the various group members become its partners and the partnership conducts the applicable worldwide line of business. 
Secondly, because the partnership conducts a portion of its activities through U.S. offices and other facilities, the foreign group member partners are treated by statute as being engaged in a trade or business in the U.S. This makes them subject to U.S. taxation on their share of effectively connected income (ECI) earned by the partnership. U.S. taxation will be imposed at effective rates of 54.5% or higher. (The effective rate could be 38.25% or higher if a tax treaty applies.) 
In the absence of a partnership, whether a foreign group member is engaged in a U.S. trade or business is a factual determination that may be difficult for the IRS to establish. However, to their collective detriment, MNCs whose factual situations support the existence of a partnership that conducts such a U.S. trade or business have made it a slam-dunk for the IRS to conclude that the foreign group member partner is so engaged. The U.S. tax rules are clear – if a foreign corporation is a partner in a partnership engaged in a U.S. trade or business, then that partner will be so engaged. All MNCs with this general fact pattern and their auditors should re-examine existing profit shifting structures to determine if they could withstand an IRS charge asserting both the existence of a partnership and taxable ECI.
An interesting perspective and worth a read.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

May 4: International Tax Governance in Action at Tilburg University

Next week, I will be participating in a workshop at Tilburg University in the Netherlands on the topic of International Tax Governance, a timely topic especially given the recent developments in the coordination of the international organizations, the expansion of the OECD's global forum idea to monitor BEPS, the impact of the state aid cases within and beyond Europe, and the increasing role of NGOs in shaping international tax policy. Here is the program:
10:00- 10:30 Welcome and registration
10:30- 11:00 Opening
Cees Peters (Tilburg University): International Tax Governance in Action
11:00- 12:30 Session 1 - Transparency
Edwin Visser (PwC): reaction of MNC's to transparency pressure: CbCR and CSR discussion (30 minutes + 15 minutes discussion)
Maaike van Diepen (Tax Justice Network): The perspective of an NGO (30 minutes + 15 minutes discussion)
12:30- 13:30 Lunch break
13:30- 15:00 Session 2 - EU State Aid
Allison Christians (McGill University): a US perspective - the reaction of the US government and US MNC's
Anna Gunn (Leiden University): an EU perspective - the reaction of the EU Member States and EU MNC's
15:00- 15:30 Break
15:30- 17:00 Session 3 - Compliance of states with new norms of international taxation
Carla De Pietro (Tilburg University and University of Bologna): Implementation of the OECD BEPS measures (Action 6) in the light of the relationship between international and EU law.
More details and registration information are here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Evasion, Avoidance, and Bashing Panama in a World of Aggressive Tax States

I've talked to a few journalists and commented a bit on the Panama Papers (e.g. here at 6:09 and here) but I've refrained from writing much to date because I am uneasy about a couple of central themes in this story: first, the constant confluence of tax evasion and tax avoidance, which are two completely different phenomena that require two very different responses in my view, and second the bashing of Panama as if only bad things can be done there, so anyone who does anything there from anywhere else must be doing a bad thing.

I am uneasy about this bashing because, although I think there are bad guys doing bad things in Panama, I also think there are bad guys doing bad things all over the world and I don't like Panama being singled out; I am also wary of suggesting that in a world of global trade and investment flows, anything and everything done through or with Panama must eternally be tinged with a sense of wrongdoing. This sense seems to imbue the imagination in the campaigns to "shut down the tax havens." What, exactly, does that mean? Does it mean that some countries, because someone decides they are mostly bad actors, must be effectively cut off from the global financial system and no one must be allowed to transact with or in these countries from the outside? What if most of the world are actually bad actors, each scheming to use its tax system to undermine and undercut the others? That's essentially the vision drawn by the OECD in countering BEPS, so we will run into some problems if we take this reasoning to its logical conclusion. But if this is not the idea behind shutting down tax havens, then what is envisioned, exactly?

Tax justice advocates seem to envision an invasive global regulatory regime in which every person in the world will have all of their assets and financial information catalogued and tagged and made public to everyone else, in order to make sure no one can break any tax rules. If this is being done just for tax--that is, if this is what it takes to make the income tax "work," I am not sure that the income tax is worth all of that trouble and everything given up to achieve it. That includes privacy, which appears to itself have become a suspicious word in certain circles, as if only those doing bad things have a desire to keep anything about their lives private. Let us recall Glenn Greenwald's words on why privacy should not come to be seen as a sinister desire. It is possible to break the tax law like it is possible to break any other law. But is requiring everyone to show all of their assets to everyone else in order to prove no laws have been broken a valid response to this enduring problem? I cannot agree with this Orwellian vision of the world. I also do not think this view is sensible if the issue is really driven by tax. If it is, then surely we can find a less invasive way to fund public goods and services.

This brings me to the evasion/avoidance point, which I find being abused just as much by lawmakers and policy advocates as it is by journalists who don't know any better.

Tax evasion is a crime that involves hiding things from a legal authority. Tax avoidance is not a crime that involves hiding: it is achieved in full view of the legal authorities. The former is a very very difficult problem but is not primarily a tax policy problem. Instead it is primarily a global financial system problem that is created, like most global financial system problems, by virtue of the difficulty of regulating behaviours in a world in which technology has moved us far beyond the frontiers of the nation state.

On the other hand, 'aggressive" tax avoidance (loosely speaking; more analysis here)--that is, avoidance not intentionally allowed by rules such as those to defer tax on retirement savings--is a tax policy issue. Taxpayers and their advisers are always going to cook up new schemes to get around inconvenient tax rules. Knowing this, regulators must decide whether and how to react. They may react with any number of tools that create an infinite call and response loop among regulators, taxpayers, administrators, and judges. These include such things as general and specific anti-avoidance rules, uncertain tax position disclosure, and random audit strategies. None of these things has the first thing to say about how to deal with a corrupt government official who steals money from the public fisc and invests it in US and European stocks and bonds through a maze of trusts and companies formed in other jurisdictions. It's just a totally different problem.

I know and understand that bad guys are always lurking around to defeat the tax law, as they are in any regulatory field. I don't have any special insights about how to deal with corruption and criminality. But in my experience with tax, when a government moves to "crack down" on bad guys, the really serious criminals--including government officials themselves--all too often escape while everyone else finds themselves increasingly tracked, surveilled, and treated like criminals even as the resources to cope with fixable tax policy flaws diminish. I don't have any answers for these worries.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Soft Tax Law & Multilateralism: Modifying treaties with anti-BEPS measures

As observers of global tax policy know, international tax issues are dealt with in bilateral treaties that more or less adhere to a 'model' tax treaty developed and periodically updated by the OECD (provisions in a rival UN Model are occasionally invoked, and the US has its own model with its own distinctions and idiosyncrasies). There are those who have long lamented the problem of having thousands of bilateral agreements that can't be easily or quickly updated when the OECD revises the model (thus curbing the impact of OECD soft law).

As part of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) initiative, the OECD is currently developing a
"Multilateral instrument on tax treaty measures to tackle BEPS" which would be used to 'modify' all existing tax treaties in force among signatory countries. The OECD says this mechanism (which it calls an 'innovative approach') 'would preserve the bilateral nature of tax treaties' even as it modified all existing bilateral treaties 'in a synchronized way'. The OECD says there are "limited precedents" for modifying bilateral treaties with a multilateral instrument.

But are there really any precedents at all? I couldn't think of any off-hand. A quick check with a few international law colleagues yielded few comparators. Tim Meyer suggested the EU harmonizing efforts on Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) as a candidate, albeit noting that this does not contemplate directly overriding existing BITs but requires EU members to change their bilateral arrangements to conform with EU investment policy.

Tim also made the interesting observation that"treaties that reference customary international law standards, such as BITs’ reference to the minimum standard of treatment" could be overridden in a somewhat similar fashion. He explained that "[i]f custom changed, such as through the promulgation of soft law documents or multilateral treaties, it would change the BITs that incorporate the customary standard. That isn’t exactly the same thing [as the new OECD multilateral instrument], but similar."

The OECD's work in developing "global consensus" has in the past led some to describe OECD standards as "soft law" and others to suggest that the OECD may be understood to articulate customary international tax law; moreover the OECD has itself now taken to describing its model as soft law (including in its 2014 report on the multilateral instrument). I have urged caution in defining OECD proclamations as soft law or customary law given the OECD's exclusive membership of mainly rich countries, which excludes all of the BRICs and most of the rest of the world, as I think the nomenclature lends an imprimatur of legitimacy to OECD proclamations that may not be deserved. But it seems clear that the BEPS action items, and the new global forum to "monitor compliance" with them, are intended to overcome the exclusivity problem while endowing OECD norms with ever-greater law-like effect (without offending the unicorn that is "tax sovereignty").

It seems likely to me that a multilateral agreement that modifies existing tax treaties is actually intended to ultimately replace those treaties, making small and incremental modifications until the underlying bilateral treaties become superfluous or extinct. Accordingly I view the OECD's multilateral 'modification' function to be an exercise in creeping harmonization as well as "ossification" (or maybe transformation) of soft law into hard law.

Adding together the other elements of BEPS, including the new global forum to compel national compliance with 'minimum standards' as they develop, I recently suggested that the OECD's tax folks are giving birth to a new global tax order complete with rules, audits, and reform processes. This is perhaps not the order envisioned by those who have in the past called for global tax coordination in a supranational body for the sake of pursuing global tax justice. If the OECD-based regime is not fully supranational yet, it is close, and it looks increasingly inevitable once it sets a multilateral agreement in place.

There are many fascinating threads of soft law and public international law are at work in these developments. I recently came across an article by Jung-Hong Kim on the topic, entitled A New Age of Multilateralism in International Taxation?, abstract:
 With the OECD/G20 BEPS project, the current international tax landscape is facing challenges and changes unprecedented for the past several decades. This paper looks at the development of bilateralism and multilateralism in the current international tax regime, takes stock of the BEPS works and analyzes the proposed Multilateral Instrument. Then, the paper discusses the emerging multilateral tax order in international taxation. 
Historically, bilateralism has been the constant trend of tax treaties, and later multilateral tax treaties have emerged in some regional areas. There being some deficiencies with bilateral treaties such as dilapidation, delay in entry into force and vulnerability to treaty shopping, the experience of multilateral tax treaties can help build a foundation for future development of a multilateral tax treaty to complement the bilateral tax treaty network. 
With a caveat that BEPS output is fluid at this stage, drawing on the various examples of existing non-tax multilateral treaties, the Multilateral Instrument will be a desirable and feasible tool to reflect the necessary changes resulting from BEPS project. For Korea whose tax treaties need a systematic upgrade after a noticeable growth in quantity, the negotiation on the Multilateral Instrument of the BEPS project will be a great opportunity to revisit the existing bilateral tax treaties and to make appropriate amendments with bilateral treaty partners in multilateral format. 
Beyond BEPS, supposing that the work on the Multilateral Instrument results in a multilateral convention, the inevitable question is the emergence of a multilateral tax order. In terms of feasibility of such a multilateral tax order, there are both positive and negative sides. The positive side is that the relative success of Global Forum on Tax Transparency can be a guidance on the post-BEPS multilateral tax order. On the other hand, the phenomenon of diminishing multilateral trade regime and bilateral investment treaty regime seem to be a negative evidence. Another point to consider is the appropriate forum to manage the multilateral tax order. For this, there are two competing organizations, i.e., the OECD CFA and UN tax committee, each of which having some limit to be developed into an intergovernmental forum. 
After all, the essential question will be how those major players such as the U.S., EU, China, India etc. could build a consensus by compromising on the institutional and substantive aspects of the multilateral tax order. For now, for the emerging multilateral tax order to proceed on a sound basis, the work of the BEPS project should bear substantive and meaningful fruits. 
This is a useful contribution to the discussion and I would like to see more analysis on the OECD's developments, especially from the perspective of nonOECD countries that are being drawn in as BEPS Associates. I would be interested to hear from readers with thoughts on the public international law foundations and precedents, particularly any comparator regimes that I should be thinking about.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dataset and research on tax treaties by Martin Hearson and ActionAid

Martin Hearson recently developed an an impressive dataset of tax treaties involving 519 agreements signed from 1970 to 2014 by low and lower-middle income countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. He prepared this dataset for ActionAid, an NGO that has taken on global tax policy as a development issue. Martin also posted a working paper detailing the methodology used to analyse and score each treaty. Here is the summary:
This paper introduces a new dataset that codes the content of 519 tax treaties signed by low- and lower-middle-income countries in Africa and Asia. Often called Double Taxation Agreements, bilateral tax treaties divide up the right to tax cross-border economic activity between their two signatories. When one of the signatories is a developing country that is predominantly a recipient of foreign investment, the effect of the tax treaty is to impose constraints on its ability to tax inward investors, ostensibly to encourage more investment. 
The merits of tax treaties for developing countries have been challenged in critical legal literature for decades, and studies of whether or not they attract new investment into developing countries give contradictory and inconclusive results. These studies have rarely disaggregated the elements of tax treaties to determine which may be most pertinent to any investment-promoting effect. Meanwhile, as developing countries continue to negotiate, renegotiate, review and terminate tax treaties, comparative data on negotiating histories and outcomes is not easily obtained. 
The new dataset fills both these gaps. Using it, this paper demonstrates how tax treaties are changing over time. The restrictions they impose on the rate of withholding tax developing countries can levy on cross-border payments have intensified since 1970. In contrast, the permanent establishment threshold, which specifies when a foreign company’s profits become taxable in a developing country, has been falling, giving developing countries more opportunity to tax foreign investors. The picture with respect to capital gains tax and other provisions is mixed. As a group, OECD countries appear to be moving towards treaties with developing countries that impose more restrictions on the latter’s taxing rights, while non- OECD countries appear to be allowing developing countries to retain more taxing rights than in the past. These overall trends, however, mask some surprising differences between the positions of individual industrialised and emerging economies. These findings pose more questions than they answer, and it is hoped that this paper and the dataset it accompanies will stimulate new research on tax treaties.
Nadia Harrison and Lovisa Moller produced a report based on the dataset, entitled Mistreated: The tax treaties that are depriving the world’s poorest countries of vital revenue. Here is the abstract:
Women and girls in the world’s poorest countries need good schools and hospitals. To pay for this, these countries urgently need more tax revenue. A little-known mechanism by which countries lose corporate tax revenue is a global network of binding tax treaties between countries. This report marks the release of the ActionAid tax treaties dataset – original research that makes these tax deals made with some of the world’s poorest countries easily comparable and open to public scrutiny.

 ActionAid also produced an interactive map showing overall treaty effects by country.
          These are tremendous resources for anyone studying international tax policy. Bravo to Martin and ActionAid for devoting time and resources to getting this important work out into the world.

          Monday, March 14, 2016

          Thinking about the OECD's New World Tax Order

          Last week I presented a work in progress on the OECD's newest global forum, which is being created to fulfill and further its BEPS initiative, as part of the BYU symposium "The Cutting Edge Of International Tax Reform." I tentatively titled my paper (ok, outline) "Not So Soft Law: The OECD Tax Regime" but I don't think I will stay with that title because soft law is still a fairly obscure notion among tax academics and practitioners, at least, in North America (it seems somewhat better-understood elsewhere). In any event I don't have a working paper yet but here is my working abstract:
          Tax jurisdiction gaps and overlaps are inevitable in a world economy powered by constant cross-border flows of capital and income. States have long sought to overcome issues thus created by engaging in consensus building over nonbinding “soft law” norms via the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But with its most recent exercise, the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting initiative, the OECD is hardening these norms into a genuine global tax regime. It is doing so with model legislation, peer monitoring, and institutions that supplant its more inclusive policy rival, the United Nations, bringing in non-OECD countries as "BEPS Associates". This Article argues that the implications of these developments include building a new international tax organization (or world tax order) to avoid the encroachment of the United Nations as a potential tax policy rival, thus ensuring the continuing global tax policy monopoly of a core set of OECD nations.
          I'm still thinking through all of the fascinating institutional changes taking place as part of the BEPS process, and don't have any grand conclusions. International tax governance has become infinitely more complicated over the past several years, with multiple institutions popping up as potential rivals for the OECD's monopolistic grip on global tax policy norms and processes.   I welcome the OECD's desire to develop an inclusive forum to enable more effective participation in global tax norm development. However I am wary about whether and how inclusive the proposed institution can be in light of the observation that agenda-setting is such an important aspect of effective participation. BEPS Associates don't quite seem like full partners yet, hence their title unfortunately seems all too apt.

          If non-OECD countries set up a new forum, to which they invited OECD countries as Associates, would the major action items be those covered in BEPS? I am not convinced. A serious study of formulary apportionment as an alternative to transfer pricing seems like a topic that a truly inclusive forum would insist upon immediately. That is not to say that formulary apportionment is wonderful or great or a panacea--I am not sure it is. But there are so many calls for it, it seems to me impossible to understand the continued insistence by the OECD to quash the discussion. If it's not a great idea, fine: study it and reveal its weaknesses. If it is a great idea, why suppress it? Perhaps there are good reasons, but in general I favour studying things to not studying them, especially when not studying them looks like an attempt to intentionally thwart progress. Similarly, I would expect such a forum to tackle items of interest especially to "less developed" countries (as far as that term may be adequately defined), such as the longstanding source/residence compromise and the expansion of the permanent establishment regime to deal with services.

          If these items were to become topics of attention and study within or because of the new OECD forum, I think I would reflect on this new tax order as a success story in developing the means for effective participation of more countries in the global tax dialogue. If not, I would be less sure that progress has been made. At this stage I have far more questions than answers.

          Wednesday, February 17, 2016

          New US Model Income Tax Treaty: Now With Kill-Switches!

          Treasury issued the new US Model Tax Treaty, via press release
          ​WASHINGTON - Today, the Treasury Department issued a newly revised U.S. Model Income Tax Convention (the “2016 Model”), which is the baseline text the Treasury Department uses when it negotiates tax treaties.  The U.S. Model Income Tax Convention was last updated in 2006.   
          “The 2016 Model is the result of a concerted effort by the Treasury Department to further our policy commitment to provide relief from double taxation and ensure certainty and stability in the tax treatment of treaty residents,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Tax Affairs Robert B. Stack.  “The 2016 Model includes a number of provisions intended to eliminate double taxation without creating opportunities for non-taxation or reduced taxation through tax evasion or avoidance,” he added. 
          Many of the 2016 Model updates reflect technical improvements developed in the context of bilateral tax treaty negotiations and do not represent substantive changes to the prior model.  The 2016 Model also includes a number of new provisions intended to more effectively implement the Treasury Department’s longstanding policy that tax treaties should eliminate double taxation without creating opportunities for non-taxation or reduced taxation through tax evasion or avoidance.  For example, the 2016 Model does not reduce withholding taxes on payments of highly mobile income—income that taxpayers can easily shift around the globe through deductible payments such as royalties and interest—that are made to related persons that enjoy low or no taxation with respect to that income under a preferential tax regime.  In addition, a new article obligates the treaty partners to consult with a view to amending the treaty as necessary when changes in the domestic law of a treaty partner draw into question the treaty’s original balance of negotiated benefits and the need for the treaty to reduce double taxation.  The 2016 Model also includes measures to reduce the tax benefits of corporate inversions.  Specifically, it denies reduced withholding taxes on U.S. source payments made by companies that engage in inversions to related foreign persons.   
          The Treasury Department has been a strong proponent of facilitating the resolution of disputes between tax authorities regarding the application of tax treaties.  Accordingly, the 2016 Model contains rules requiring that such disputes be resolved through mandatory binding arbitration.  The “last best offer” approach to arbitration in the 2016 Model is substantively the same as the arbitration provision in four U.S. tax treaties in force and three U.S. tax treaties that are awaiting the advice and consent of the Senate.  
          The 2016 Model reflects comments that the Treasury Department received in response to the proposed model treaty provisions it released on May 20, 2015.  The Treasury Department carefully considered all the comments it received and made a number of modifications to the proposed model treaty provisions in response to those comments.
          The Treasury Department is preparing a detailed technical explanation of the 2016 Model, which it plans to release this spring.  The preamble to the 2016 Model invites comments regarding certain situations that should be addressed in the technical explanation for the so-called “active trade or business” test of Article 22 (Limitation on Benefits).  See the preamble page 5.  The deadline for public comments on this subject is April 18, 2016.
          Highlights mine. There is much to be discussed in this of course and I will make no attempt to be comprehensive here, but I made a quick comparison doc that might be useful; download here. Just at first glance: can you spot the BEPS? Action 6 is plainly at work, and probably others.

          My current interest is in what I am calling the new "kill-switch" provisions, the special tax regime (art 3, 11, 12, 21, 22) and subsequent law changes (art 28) provisions alluded to in the bold highlighted text above. I'm working on a paper on this subject and will have more analysis soon.

          Wednesday, February 10, 2016

          Rocha on Balancing Rights and Power between State and Taxpayer

          Sergio André Rocha recently posted a discussion on information, transparency, and the rights of taxpayer versus those of states, of interest. He argues that hard-fought rights needed to balance the unequal power between state and individual are being abandoned in the populist rush to protect the state against multinational tax dodging. Central to this argument is the claim that states are not hapless victims of ruthless tax managers and CEOs, rather they are the very architects of the system. He worries, I think, that suspending taxpayer rights to get at the big bad corporations will ultimately result in suspending rights for individuals, setting up the conditions for states to abuse their power. Here are a few excerpts (footnotes omitted):
          There is no doubt that taxation is one of the areas where the balance between the legitimate exercise of Government power and the illegitimate violation of citizens’ rights is most challenging. 
          ...The transformation of the majority of modern States into Fiscal States – i.e., States that depend on tax collection to obtain the resources to fund all its activities – has changed the nature of the obligation to pay taxes. Some authors have begun to argue that there is a fundamental or constitutional obligation to pay taxes.
          However, this line of thought, to which we subscribe, has been used to support an inversion of the whole structure of tax systems. Legal principles that are, at their core, protections of taxpayers against the State have been transformed into protections for the State against taxpayers. 
          Let’s consider, for instance, the principle of transparency, which is at the center of modern constitutional, administrative, financial, and tax law. It is, first and foremost, a protection for the citizens against the State, establishing as a goal a state of affairs that guarantees full disclosure of a government’s actions to its citizens. 
          The principle of transparency is not a one-way street. It also applies to citizens, requiring disclosure and combating opaque situations that prevent the due application of laws in general. Nevertheless, one should not forget: State and Government transparency come first. 
          This maxim seems to have been forgotten by those now in charge of reshaping the international tax regime. 
          ...[OECD Director Pascal Saint-Amans recently] stated that, "Transparency, from my perspective, is transparency from the taxpayer to the Tax Administration, and maybe the other way around as well. ..."  
          We should make no mistake: once legal principles have been mutilated and taxpayers’ rights overturned, effects will be felt by all taxpayers – individuals and legal entities alike. 
          ...Both the Global Forum’s and BEPS’ work share a common feature: they are aimed at optimizing States’ tax collection. The taxpayer – the citizen – is not in their focus. This is unacceptable. There is nothing more urgent than recovering the protagonist role of the taxpayer in taxation, where he rightfully belongs. This does not mean that their focus is completely misguided. It means that they need to find a way to achieve their rightful objectives without leaving taxpayers’ rights behind.
          More at the link above; worth the read.

          Monday, February 8, 2016

          Parada: Legal Questions Surrounding FATCA-based Agreements in Europe

          Leopoldo Parada has recently posted on SSRN an article published last summer in the World Tax Journal, entitled Intergovernmental Agreements and the Implementation of FATCA in Europe, of interest. Here is the abstract:
          FATCA is a US domestic tax policy that requires Foreign Financial Institutions around the world to provide the IRS information regarding their US clients. Recognizing this extraterritorial characteristic and the troubles associated with it, the US Treasury Department developed the Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs), which have served the double purpose of coordinating FATCA at an international level and influencing the new international standards on automatic exchange of information. Nevertheless, the IGAs are instruments that still need to be improved, at least in order to guarantee their successful implementation in Europe. The first part of this article explores the legal nature and the characteristic of the IGAs, concluding that they possess an asymmetriclegal nature that can lead to conflicts of interpretation. Likewise, it concludes that their contribution toward international transparency is incompatible with the existence of other instruments in Europe that seek the opposite goal of protecting bank secrecy, although it recognizes the importance of the most recent achievements at the European level in order to ensure a coherent and consistent system of automatic exchange of information. The second part of this article analyses three grey areas in the IGAs implementation process in Europe (i.e., “quoted Eurobonds” in the United Kingdom; group requests under the Switzerland-United States IGA, and the “coordination timing” provision of the IGA Model 1A), concluding that there is still work to be done in order for the IGAs to grant an acceptable level of reciprocity in practice.
          I was not aware of this article when I wrote on a column last fall on this very same topic, in which I called the IGAs "Hybrid Tax Agreements" and pointed out the mess created by their unprecedented legal form as treaties to the rest of the world but administrative guidance in the United States. Parada's article goes further in the analysis and lays out a number of enduring difficulties. It seems to me that governments are simply ignoring these difficult issues as inconvenient barriers to desired outcomes and courts will face the same temptation. But I don't think these issues go away with time and gradual acceptance of FATCA as an institution. Instead, I think the issue will cause systemic problems going forward, both in terms of raising endless conflicts of law, and in terms of the precedent set for international tax relations by the failure of states to challenge US exceptionalism even as it tramples on law and legal process throughout the world.