TAX, SOCIETY & CULTURE

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Kadet and Koontz on an Objective Ethical Framework for MNC Tax Planning

Published Jul 27, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Jeffery M Kadet and David L Koontz have recently posted a two-part article entitled "Profit-Shifting Structures: Making Ethical Judgments Objectively," of interest and available on SSRN: parts one and two. From the abstract:
MNCs and their advisors have seemingly taken ethics out of the mix when considering the profit-shifting tax structures they have so prolifically and enthusiastically implemented over the past several decades. ... Given the strong motivation to implement such structures, a counterweight is needed to balance the unfettered acceptance and adoption of profit-shifting strategies based solely on the mere possibility that they might pass technical tax scrutiny by the government. Greater thought needs to be given to whether these plans are consistent with and serve the long term objectives of the MNC and its many global stakeholders. Stating this proposition more directly, it is time to ask if all of these stakeholders would accept the efficacy of these structures if they were made fully aware of and understood the technical basis, the strained interpretations, the hidden arrangements, the meaningless intercompany agreements, the inconsistent positions, and the lack of change in the business model for the schemes proposed or already implemented.
This article presents an objective ethical benchmark to test the acceptability of certain profit shifting structures. ... In brief, this ethical benchmark requires an examination of the factual situation for each of an MNC’s low or zero taxed foreign group members regarding three factors, which are: 
(a) identification and location of critical value-drivers,(b) location of actual control and decision-making of the foreign group member’s business and operations, and(c) the existence or lack thereof of capable offshore management personnel and a CEO located at an office of the foreign group member ... who has the background and expertise to manage, and does in fact manage, the entity’s business. 
Through this examination, it should be possible to determine whether a foreign group member is recording income that is economically earned through business decisions and activities conducted in the jurisdiction in which it claims to be doing business. ... This benchmark should be used by MNCs with the active participation of board and management members. An MNC could also use this approach to proactively respond to critics or to demonstrate its tax bona-fides. 
The article contributes to an ongoing discourse about how states can tax multinationals effectively, and how tax planning decisions should be assessed, in a world of global capital mobility and flexible commercial structures.

Tagged as: BEPS corporate tax scholarship tax policy

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

Published May 04, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

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.

Tagged as: scholarship Tax law US

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Kadet on Profit Shifting: The Approach Everyone Forgets

Published Oct 14, 2015 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Over the summer, Jeffery Kadet published an article of interest, Attacking Profit Shifting: The Approach Everyone Forgets, in which he argues that the IRS has the ability, as yet not exercised, to attack profit shifting by US-based MNCs using nothing more than the domestic "effectively connected income" rules. Here is the abstract:

In recent years the financial press has turned increasing attention to MNCs that shift income to low taxed jurisdictions overseas in order to avoid US taxation. What’s generally missing from these discussions is any serious focus on possible IRS attacks on these companies, most of which are CFCs. There’s little apparent concern by anyone that the IRS will try to disallow the profit-shifting structures that have moved so much taxable income out of the US and other countries and into low-taxed foreign jurisdictions. 
This is changing. Early this year Caterpillar Inc. in an SEC filing disclosed that the IRS had issued a Revenue Agent’s Report to currently tax certain income earned by one of its Swiss entities. Presumably this is income earned as a result of a certain restructuring conducted in the late 1990s and referred to as the Swiss Tax Strategy when examined in 2014 in hearings held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). 
The IRS basis for its RAR, as disclosed by Caterpillar, is application of the ‘substance-over-form’ or ‘assignment-of-income’ judicial doctrines. This, however, is not the only approach that the IRS might have chosen to impose taxation on the shifted profits. 
Various Congressional hearing documents, the work of investigative journalists, and other sources (all publicly available) provide evidence that the businesses within some profit-shifting structures continue to be managed and substantially conducted from the U.S. and not from any business locations outside the U.S. Where this is the case, the IRS may have a strong case for imposing direct taxation on the effectively connected income (ECI) of these low-taxed foreign subsidiaries. 
Just the threat of imposing direct taxation may cause many MNCs to consider scaling back their profit shifting and for them and their outside auditors to start worrying about exposure on prior years. If the IRS were to sustain such direct taxation, it would mean: 
• The regular up-to-35% corporate tax, 
• The ‘branch profits tax’ applied at a flat 30% rate (unless lower by treaty), 
• A loss of deductions and credits for any tax year if the foreign corporation has not filed Form 1120-F for that year, and 
• An open statute of limitations on IRS assessment of tax for any tax year if the foreign corporation has never filed a US tax return on Form 1120-F for that year. 
The combined effect of the above is a 54.5% or higher effective tax rate (lower if tax treaty coverage reduces the 30% branch profits tax rate). 
Considering these terribly high effective tax rate percentages, where the IRS chooses to examine for possible ECI and develops a credible case, they can use the high effective tax rate as strong leverage to secure agreement for reversal of profit shifting structures. Such agreements would presumably see MNCs agreeing to current taxation within U.S. group members of the shifted profits that had originally been booked in low-taxed foreign subsidiaries. 
To demonstrate how significant ECI likely exists within many MNCs that have conducted profit-shifting planning, this article includes a number of realistic examples inspired by the above-mentioned publicly available information on MNC profit-shifting structures. 
Recognizing that it can sometimes be a challenge to apply the very old existing regulations to current business models, the article strongly encourages Treasury to prioritize the issuance of modernized income sourcing and ECI regulations that reflect the business models and structures now commonly used and that are often found in profit-shifting structures.

Tagged as: corporate tax IRS scholarship tax policy US

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Kadet on Transfer pricing vs Formulary Apportionment: How About the Profit Split Method?

Published Apr 02, 2015 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Jeff Kadet has a new article at Tax Analysts [gated] entitled Expansion of the Profit-Split Method: The Wave of the Future, in which he discusses the so-called transactional profit split method of transfer pricing, which could be quite a lot more like formulary apportionment than it is like transfer pricing. Recall that the OECD really does not want countries to switch to formulary apportionment, even if that might end up being more effective at producing revenue at less administrative cost. But the profit split method might offer a way out, with a little tweaking. Here is the abstract:
Recognizing the reality that multinational corporations are centrally managed and not groups of entities that operate independently of one another, the OECD base erosion and profit-shifting project is considering expanded use of the profit-split method. This article provides background on why expanded use of the profit-split method is sorely needed. In particular, resource-constrained tax authorities in many countries are unable to administer or intelligently analyze and contest transfer pricing results presented by multinational groups. Most importantly, this article suggests a simplified profit-split approach using set concrete and objective allocation keys for commonly used business models that should be welcomed by multinational groups and tax authorities alike.
And here are a few excerpts:
December 2014 saw the OECD issuing several base erosion and profit-shifting discussion drafts, one of which was titled "BEPS Action 10: Discussion Draft on the Use of Profit Splits in the Context of Global Value Chains" .... 
Despite all the continuing rhetoric about how arm's-length pricing and the separate entity principle are sacrosanct, there are compelling reasons why the OECD BEPS project has focused on the possible expanded use of the profit-split method, a method that clearly flies in the face of these icons. ... 
[A] combination of factors has strongly motivated the highly successful tax structures that have significantly lowered the effective tax rates of multinational corporations (MNCs) and eroded the tax bases of many countries. The existence of these factors means that some of the transfer pricing methods are a part of the problem; they are not a part of a solution. These factors include ... [t]he Separate Entity Principle ... Fragmentation ... Respect of Related-Party Contracts ... The Arm's-Length Standard... the Inability to Effectively Audit MNC Transfer Pricing ... [and other issues].
...Paragraph 2.108 of the OECD transfer pricing guidelines gives a concise statement of what the profit-split method is. It states:

The transactional profit split method seeks to eliminate the effect on profits of special conditions made or imposed in a controlled transaction (or in controlled transactions that are appropriate to aggregate . . .) by determining the division of profits that independent enterprises would have expected to realize from engaging in the transaction or transactions. The transactional profit split method first identifies the profits to be split for the associated enterprises from the controlled transactions in which the associated enterprises are engaged (the "combined profits"). . . . It then splits those combined profits between the associated enterprises on an economically valid basis that approximates the division of profits that would have been anticipated and reflected in an agreement made at arm's length. 
Additional guidance in the existing guidelines (paragraphs 2.132ff) makes clear that the criteria or allocation keys on which the combined profits are split should be "independent of transfer pricing policy formulation." Hence, these criteria and allocation keys "should be based on objective data (e.g. sales to independent parties), not on data relating to the remuneration of controlled transactions (e.g. sales to associated enterprises)." Paragraph 2.135 makes this objective basis clear by stating: 
In practice, allocation keys based on assets/capital (operating assets, fixed assets, intangible assets, capital employed) or costs (relative spending and/or investment in key areas such as research and development, engineering, marketing) are often used. Other allocation keys based for instance on incremental sales, headcounts (number of individuals involved in the key functions that generate value to the transaction), time spent by a certain group of employees if there is a strong correlation between the time spent and the creation of the combined profits, number of servers, data storage, floor area of retail points, etc. may be appropriate depending on the facts and circumstances of the transactions. 
Further discussion in the guidelines provides various approaches to splitting the combined profits among the relevant group members. While these approaches are not detailed here, the point is that the approaches that were set out and discussed require a facts and circumstances case-by-case analysis before they can be implemented.
Kadet suggests that this facts & circumstances approach should be shelved in favour of developing a detailed set of objective allocation keys tailored specific types of business, and that for these businesses, the profit split method ought to be presumptive.  In other words, profit split is another word for apportionment; some types of businesses are so integrated that apportionment is the best way to allocate profits to the right jurisdiction; what is needed is a formulaic approach that tax administrations can administer. He notes:
The application of such rules should result in a reduction in complex BEPS-motivated structures since all combined profits will be spread among the group members that actually conduct activities with little or none left within low-taxed group members that do not conduct economic activity and thereby contribute little if anything to value creation. In sum, a simplified and standardized approach for each common business model will provide significant benefits as well as give results that are fair to MNCs and all relevant governments.
 He then goes on to provide a couple of examples taken from the DD10, one involving an internet service provider and the other featuring a manufacturer of R&D-intensive products. In the former, allocation keys include location of customers and workers; in the latter, they include location of customers and key workers (weighted at 25% each) and location of manufacturing operations (weighted at 50%). This is a fairly detailed discussion and well worth reading in full. I'll be interested to see how this idea develops.

Tagged as: BEPS corporate tax OECD transfer pricing

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NGOs using non-binding OECD Guidelines to launch complaints about tax avoidance #TJHR

Published Jun 30, 2014 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Thanks to a visit from Savior Mwambwa to Montreal last week in connection with the Symposium on Tax Justice and Human Rights, I finally sat down to look closely at the complaint raised by several NGOs against Glencore International AG, a Swiss company, for their transfer pricing strategies related to the Zambian-based Mopani Copper Mines Plc.

What I found was quite startling news to me (but not to a number of NGOs, and not to Martin Hearson, who is quickly becoming an indispensible go-to for interesting developments in international taxation): the OECD has apparently set up a sort of soft-law dispute resolution regime in which anyone can bring complaints against perceived tax dodging by multinationals, by lodging a request to a designated bureaucrat in the multinational's home states. This is a metaphor for taxpayer standing, an issue I have been curious about in the past but haven't made much progress on despite more than a little help from some of my regular readers.

This soft-law dispute resolution regime is quirky, to say the least. That's, of course, to be expected. So far the regime seems to be toothless or offer little more than a bit of theatre, but it is intriguing to watch the NGOs try to make hay with it, and more power to them if they can gain any traction. If they can, I expect to see the floodgates opened up for taxpayer-standing suits levied against MNCs in OECD member nations for their tax dodging efforts in developing countries, all on the strength of a document that isn't law anywhere.

This is the stuff of global legal pluralism.

The regime emerges from a non-binding set of OECD guidelines that require multinational enterprises to (among other undertakings) adhere to the arm’s length transfer pricing standards (also developed by the OECD) wherever they operate, and to structure transactions consistent with economic principles unless there are specific local laws allowing deviation from this general rule. Again, these guidelines are non-binding standards. But there is a real live process built up in this document. It is sprinkled throughout the Guidelines but the main parts are these:

[from p. 18:] Governments adhering to the Guidelines will implement them and encourage their use. They will establish National Contact Points that promote the Guidelines and act as a forum for discussion ... The adhering Governments will also participate in appropriate review and consultation procedures to address issues concerning interpretation of the Guidelines in a changing world.
[from p. 72:] The National Contact Point will ... Respond to enquiries about the Guidelines from: a) other National Contact Points; b) the business community, worker organisations, other non- governmental organisations and the public; and c) governments of non-adhering countries. 
... The National Contact Point will contribute to the resolution of issues that arise relating to implementation of the Guidelines in specific instances in a manner that is impartial, predictable, equitable and compatible with the principles and standards of the Guidelines. The NCP will offer a forum for discussion and assist the business community, worker organisations, other non-governmental organisations, and other interested parties concerned to deal with the issues raised in an efficient and timely manner and in accordance with applicable law. 
In providing this assistance, the NCP will: ... Make an initial assessment of whether the issues raised merit further examination and respond to the parties involved. ... consult with these parties ... facilitate access to consensual and non-adversarial means, such as conciliation or mediation ... make the results of the procedures publicly available.
From this we can discern the following soft law dispute resolution regime:

  • If you think a MNE is engaged in behavior inconsistent with the MNE guidelines, you can make a complaint to the National Contact Point (NCP) in the country(ies) where your target MNE is organized/operates. 
  • The NCPs "will" respond to enquiries from the public.
  • The NCPs "will" assess issues raised, and, if the NCP thinks the issues merit further review, will consult with you and with the MNE about the issue you raised, facilitate mediation, come to a decision and publish their results.
So how is this process working so far? Spoiler alert: about what you'd expect from a non-binding regime run by the OECD.

Over at OECD Watch (H/T Martin Hearson, naturellement), I searched "tax" and got 74 results. Most seem to involve conflict minerals and outright corruption (including bribery and financing armed rebels) but I am interested in how the process is being used to challenge tax avoidance, specifically with transfer pricing (on the theory that regulating transfer pricing is all about drawing that ever-elusive line between tax avoidance and evasion, so we are not always taking about activities that are inherently objectionable--in other words, these would be the hardest cases, so if any traction is gained, it is definitely worth noting). 

The Glencore/Zambia case is documented here. The result: the NCP of Switzerland took a look, consulted the parties, and concluded that, in the words of OECD Watch, "the parties agreed to disagree." OECD Watch reports that:
"the complainants are disappointed that the agreement did not go further than an agreement to disagree. They feel that the result shows that there is little value in engaging in a dialogue with the companies on these issues. According to the complainants, the company has not complied with its commitment as part of the agreement to respond to a detailed set of questions regarding its tax payments."
So, a dead end and as far as I see, no way to appeal or contest anything that has happened or not happened; on the other hand, there doesn't seem to be anything (other than resource constraints of would-be complainants) preventing reopening the case by simply filing a new complaint.

Other dead ends:
  • CBE vs. National Grid Transco, opened in 2003 in connection with acquisition of Copperbelt Energy Co (CEC), stating that "financial and tax incentives given to CEC are alleged to have resulted in an unstable macroeconomic environment by having increased the tax burden on the poor, having introduced discriminatory treatment and massive externalisation of funds." Case closed by UK NCP in 2005 "for 'want of prosecution'." I am not sure what that means.
  • NiZA et al. vs. Chemie Pharmacie Holland (CPH), a conflict minerals complaint opened in 2003 that sought clarification of whether tax payments made by CPH subsidiaries in the DRC were consistent with the Guidelines. Case first accepted but then quickly rejected by the Dutch NCP in 2004, for "lack of an investment nexus." 
  • War on Want and Change to Wins complaint against Alliance Boots, opened in November 2013 and quickly rejected by the UK NCP for offering only "unsubstantiated" allegations. The NGOs alleged that Alliance Boots violated the Guidelines disclosure and tax provisions, by, among other items, failing to act "in accordance with the spirit of UK taxation laws by shifting profits to offshore tax havens using complex financial instruments, shell financial companies in Luxembourg, and payments from one party to another to finance the purchase of company debt in a circular manner. The complainants sought mediation to bring concrete reforms of the company' governance, tax, and disclosure procedures so they are aligned with the Guidelines." I hope they assemble some documentation and try again: this is an interesting case for observers of the emerging links between tax justice and human rights.
I found one NGO win in this database, but the victory appears hollow, at least to the NGO:

  • Global Witness vs Afrimex, regarding tax payments made by Afrimex (a UK co operating in the DRC) to an "armed rebel group with a well-documented record of carrying out grave human rights abuses." The UK NCP agreed with many of GW's charges and concluded "that Afrimex failed to contribute to the sustainable development in the region; to respect human rights; or to influence business partners and suppliers to adhere to the Guidelines." Global Witness later followed up with Afrimex to see how things were going; the company said it had stopped trading in minerals. But GW seems skeptical, and states that "the case illustrates the severe limitations of relying on voluntary guidelines to hold companies to account. The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises remain a weak, non-binding mechanism. The NCP does not have the legal powers to enforce decisions arising from its conclusions and there is no in-built mechanism for following up its recommendations. The UK government will have to take further action to ensure that the investigation and conclusions of the NCP are more than just a theoretical exercise."

So far, the process isn't looking too promising for those using the guidelines to resist the status quo of international tax practice. Still,  I found one that was re-opened from a prior failed attempt, 15 Belgian NGOs complaint against Nami Gems for tax evasion in the DRC. This is a re-opening of a complaint that was rejected 10 years ago on what look like fairly flimsy grounds, will be interesting if the NGOs are learning from experience and improving their strategy as they go along.

I know that there are those that believe it is frustrating or even pointless watching activists work through international tax rules looking for justice. But activists are a finger on a pulse. They are looking to the rule of law to produce justice. When they feel that it doesn't, they again look to the rule of law for avenues of redress against unjust situations caused or ignored by the law. It is an optimistic and hopeful strategy, that refuses to give up on law. I hope that law can live up to its promise in this respect. It is the case that we perceive international taxation to occur mostly in the anarchy of the post-Westphalian nation-state-based global order. Yet organisations like the OECD transcend this order all the time, often in ways we don't understand and usually with a very little amount of scrutiny from tax law scholars. The activists are watching more closely. We would do well to pay attention.



Tagged as: activism corporate tax institutions OECD rule of law soft law Tax law tax policy transfer pricing

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Corporate Tax Breaks to Which No One in Gov Pays Any Attention

Published Nov 08, 2013 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

It is quite extraordinary how much taxpayer money can be spent through expenditures that face no systemic evaluation on the merits. The GAO released a report dated September entitled Corporate Tax Expenditures: Evaluations of Tax Deferrals and Graduated Tax Rates. The main findings are not exactly news: deferral reduces tax on U.S. multinationals by delaying tax until repatriation, and we don't really know whether graduated corporate tax rates are accomplishing whatever purpose we think they serve. For both cases, maybe the most alarming point is the last one on each topic: no agency has evaluating these expenditures as a mandate. Here are the summarized findings:

On deferral:
1. some experts say deferral promotes competitiveness of U.S. multinationals, but others say this ignores the effect on other corporations that can't use deferral, as well as broader economic impact.
2. deferral could distort corporate investment and location decisions and we don't necessarily know who benefits; meanwhile, deferral adds complexity to the tax code.
3. no other federal spending programs appear to subsidize U.S. MNCs in the same way
4. estimates suggest deferral doesn't cost much budget-wise
5. no federal agency has been tasked with evaluating deferral.

 On graduated corporate rates:
1. graduated rates are supposed to support small business, but we don't know if they do.
2. graduated rates present little complexity, but they probably induce planning and their impacts on decision-making aren't well understood.
3. graduated rates may be related to (a.k.a. duplicative of) other federal spending programs targeted to small businesses.
4. estimates suggest graduated rates don't cost much budget-wise
5. no federal agency has been tasked with evaluating the graduated rates.

More at the link, but not dramatically so.

Tagged as: corporate tax tax policy u.s.

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OECD public meeting on tax-base erosion project: US MNCs hope to 'participate'

Published Oct 27, 2013 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Reuters reports that the OECD will have a "public meeting" in Paris on Nov 12-13, at which "companies will get to voice their concerns about the OECD's 'base erosion and profit shifting,' or BEPS, project":
The United States Council for International Business (USCIB), representing about 300 U.S. multinationals, has asked to participate at the hearing, said Carol Doran Klein, USCIB's tax counsel, on Monday.
And here comes a parade of lobbying that will be designed to protect all that is favorable to their clients in the status quo. These are the moments when I really appreciate the amount of transparency we have in US politics thanks to organizations like Open Secrets, the Sunlight Foundation and Muckrock:
A number of U.S. companies, including E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co, (DD.N) and Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O), have raised questions about the BEPS project with members of Congress and the Obama administration, according to corporate lobbying disclosures filed earlier this year.
Remember "raising questions' is like "raising concerns": it doesn't mean the speaker has either a question or a concern; instead it means the speaker has an agenda. The Reuter's story continues:
Under existing international standards, the fees charged [on an inter-company basis] are supposed to be set using an "arm's length" approach, meaning one that replicates market-level values. In practice, fees are often skewed so that profits can be shifted into the low-tax country where the assets are located and out of higher tax countries. 
These practices are legal, but tax fairness activists and some less-developed countries are complaining about them.
Interesting subtext there. The story doesn't give any more detail about the public meeting but here is what the OECD says:
On 12-13 November a consultation, open to the public and press, will be held at the OECD in Paris. If you wish to attend, please contact TPConference@oecd.org.
Is not public and press redundant? No matter: the point is, this is part of the public consultation portion of the BEPS program.Here is a draft agenda in pdf, and it is fascinating in lineup of both topics and speakers--namely, only two are named right now and one of them has been a long time and trusted voice of business interests against corporate tax transparency, and purveyor of norm framing exercises at the OECD, namely, GE's Will Morris; the other is Michelle Levac, noted as one of the 50 biggest influences in tax by International Tax Review, owing to her role in leading Working Party 6 on transfer pricing. These two get bookend treatment, opening and closing the consultation. All the other speakers are TBD, so this is where the USCIB seeks to gain a foothold. Here is the outline so far:
Programme  Public Consultation on Transfer Pricing Matters  12-13 November 2013  OECD Conference Centre  2 Rue André Pascal, Paris 16th, France  Tuesday 12 November  08:30-09:30 Registration   09:30-09:50 Opening remarks and Ground Rules    Speakers:
Michelle LEVAC, Chair of Working Party No. 6
William MORRIS, BIAC   09:50-11:15 I:  Implementing country-by-country reporting  The BEPS Action Plan directs the OECD to develop and implement a system of country-by-country reporting to tax authorities of high level MNE group financial information.  A large number of questions arise in connection with implementing such a system.  These include:  (i) what information should be reported; (ii) at what time should that information be reported; (iii) to whom should such information be reported; and (iv) how should such information be shared among relevant governments, taking into consideration concerns regarding non-cooperative governments, incomplete treaty information exchange obligations, and the need to protect confidential taxpayer information.
Speakers: to be announced
1.  Information to be reported
2.  Information to be reported
3. Mechanisms for reporting / to whom to report / information sharing   11:15-11:45 Refreshment Break      11:45-13:15 II:  White Paper on Transfer Pricing Documentation  The BEPS Action Plan calls for the OECD to develop rules on transfer pricing documentation.  To initiate that process, the OECD published a White Paper on transfer pricing documentation on 30 July 2013.  The White Paper raises a number of issues on which business has provided comments.  These include: (i) the implementation of a standardised two tier documentation system; (ii) the use and content of a global master file; (iii) mechanisms for limiting early reporting to information useful in risk assessment with subsequent opportunity for governments to obtain detailed information necessary for audit; (iv) the development of materiality standards; (v) implementing consistent documentation formats across countries; and (vi) mechanisms for minimising unnecessary compliance burdens.    Speakers: to be announced  1.  Two tier approach
2.  Contents of global master file
3. Establishing materiality standards  4. Mechanisms for simplifying compliance (1)
5. Mechanisms for simplifying compliance (2).   13:15-14:30 Lunch break      14:30-16:00 III:  Revised Discussion Draft On Transfer Pricing Aspects Of Intangibles – Definitional Issues And Comparability Factors  On 30 July 2013 the OECD published a Revised Discussion Draft on Intangibles.  In the RDD, the definitional section was changed in some respects.  In addition, a new section of the RDD addresses comparability factors including location savings, features of local markets, assembled workforce, and corporate synergies.   Discussion in the afternoon session will be devoted to definitional issues and to the new section on comparability factors.
Speakers: to be announced
1. RDD changes to the definition of intangibles
2. Usefulness of the term “marketing intangibles”
3. Treatment of goodwill and on-going concern value / Examples 16 and 18   16:00-16:30 Refreshment Break      16:30-18:00 IV:  Revised Discussion Draft On Transfer Pricing Aspects Of Intangibles – Definitional Issues And Comparability Factors  (Continued)    Speakers: to be announced
4.Treatment of location savings and local market features
5. Treatment of Assembled Workforce
6. Treatment of group synergies
7. The financing and guarantee examples / Examples 1 and 2     Wednesday 13 November     09:30-11:00 V.  Revised Discussion Draft On Transfer Pricing Aspects Of Intangibles – Section B Of The RDD Section B of the June 2012 Discussion Draft attracted numerous written comments and was the subject of much discussion at the last business consultation. It has been substantially redrafted.  The approach in the RDD is more transactional in nature, while still emphasising the primary importance of functions performed, assets used and risks assumed.  The morning discussion will focus on the changes to Section B and the related examples     Speakers: to be announced
1. The general approach of new section B.
2. Examples 1 – 3
3. The treatment of outsourcing arrangements
4. The treatment of important functions   11:00-11:30  Refreshment Break      11:30-13:15 VI:  REVISED DISCUSSION DRAFT ON TRANSFER PRICING ASPECTS OF INTANGIBLES – SECTION B    Speakers: to be announced
5. Examples 11 – 14 and footnote 5 on page 63.
6. Treatment of funding for intangible development
7. Guidance on the use of corporate trade names   13:15-14:30 Lunch      14:30-15:15 VII: Other Discussion Draft Topics    Speakers: to be announced
1. Treatment of valuation techniques
2. Guidance on transfer pricing methods
3. Options realistically available / Example 24   15:15-16:00 VIII: Transfer Pricing Aspects Of The Beps Action Plan
The BEPS Action Plan published in July will guide much of the OECD transfer pricing work in the next two years.  The Action Plan contains four substantive transfer pricing areas of work in Actions 4, 8, 9, and 10.   This discussion will provide business an early opportunity to comment on the transfer pricing aspects of the Action Plan and the approach that Working Party No. 6 should take to fulfilling its mandate under the Action Plan.    Speakers: to be announced
1. How should the BEPS Project approach the question of hard to value intangibles / particularly transfers of partially developed intangibles?
2. How should the BEPS Project approach questions of risk allocations that may give rise to separation of income from relevant economic activity?
3. What role should there be for approaches outside the arm's length principle in addressing BEPS issues?        16:00-16:30 Refreshment Break      16:30-17:30 IX:  TRANSFER PRICING ASPECTS OF THE BEPS ACTION PLAN (CONTINUED)    Speakers: to be announced
4. How should the BEPS project approach the topic of recharacterisation of transactions?
5. What should the BEPS project consider in connection with global value chains and profit split approaches?
6.  What should the BEPS work on financial transactions address?    CONCLUDING REMARKS   17:30-18:00 Speakers:
Michelle LEVAC, Chair of Working Party No. 6
William MORRIS, BIAC   18:00 ADJOURN
Perhaps there will be additional public consultation meetings, I do not know. As Lynne LaTulippe taught my tax policy class recently, the consultation process is an often overlooked and in general understudied aspect of norm diffusion and lawmaking. This is one of the many times I wish that I was geographically situated to attend these things. I will be very interested to see how the speaker lineup evolves and would be very grateful to hear about the discussion from anyone who attends.


Tagged as: BEPS CBCR conference corporate tax lobbying OECD tax policy transfer pricing transparency

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Russell Brand on governance as theatre and why MNCs get all the tax breaks

Published Sep 14, 2013 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Russell Brand got invited to the GQ awards, made a joke about Hugo Boss' history serving Nazi troops, and then got ejected. I would never have heard or cared about this except that then Russell Brand decided to write about the experience in the Guardian, and his comments ended up as an indictment of the relationship between elites and government with a nod to the problem of multinational influence on tax policy. Excerpts:

We witness that there is a relationship between government, media and industry that is evident even at this most spurious and superficial level. These three institutions support one another. We know that however cool a media outlet may purport to be, their primary loyalty is to their corporate backers. We know also that you cannot criticise the corporate backers openly without censorship and subsequent manipulation of this information.
Now I'm aware that this was really no big deal; I'm not saying I'm an estuary Che Guevara, it was a daft joke, by a daft comic at a daft event. It makes me wonder though how the relationships and power dynamics I witnessed on this relatively inconsequential context are replicated on a more significant scale. 
For example, if you can't criticise Hugo Boss at the GQ awards because they own the event do you think it is significant that energy companies donate to the Tory party? Will that affect government policy? Will the relationships that "politician of the year" Boris Johnson has with City bankers – he took many more meetings with them than public servants in his first term as mayor – influence the way he runs our capital? 
Is it any wonder that Amazon, Vodafone and Starbucks avoid paying tax when they enjoy such cosy relationships with members of our government? 
Ought we be concerned that our rights to protest are being continually eroded under the guise of enhancing our safety? Is there a relationship between proposed fracking in the UK, new laws that prohibit protest and the relationships between energy companies and our government? 
From the shallows of celebrity comings and goings, an all-too rare glimpse of perspective on the society we have built for ourselves.


Tagged as: corruption culture

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Add to summer reading list: Multinationals and Human Rights

Published Apr 21, 2013 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

John Ruggie has published Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights.  Abstract:

One of the most vexing human rights issues of our time has been how to protect the rights of individuals and communities worldwide in an age of globalization and multinational business. Indeed, from Indonesian sweatshops to oil-based violence in Nigeria, the challenges of regulating harmful corporate practices in some of the world's most difficult regions long seemed insurmountable. Human rights groups and businesses were locked in a stalemate, unable to find common ground. In 2005, the United Nations appointed John Gerard Ruggie to the modest task of clarifying the main issues. Six years later, he had accomplished much more than that. Ruggie had developed his now-famous "Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights," which provided a road map for ensuring responsible global corporate practices. The principles were unanimously endorsed by the UN and embraced and implemented by other international bodies, businesses, governments, workers' organizations, and human rights groups, keying a revolution in corporate social responsibility. 
Just Business tells the powerful story of how these landmark "Ruggie Rules" came to exist. Ruggie demonstrates how, to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem, he had to abandon many widespread and long-held understandings about the relationships between businesses, governments, rights, and law, and develop fresh ways of viewing the issues. He also takes us through the journey of assembling the right type of team, of witnessing the severity of the problem firsthand, and of pressing through the many obstacles such a daunting endeavor faced.
Excellent timing, with all the world watching whether and how governments are going to increase transparency with respect to MNCs and their local and global dealings.

Tagged as: CSR globalization human rights scholarship

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