TAX, SOCIETY & CULTURE

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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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