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Corporate Tax for the 21st Century

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

I'm in Oxford today for the Said Business School's annual summer conference, staying for the academic conference the remainder of the week. Here is today's program; see comments on twitter with #ct21

The need for reform, and current policy proposals
Michael Devereux, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation
Welcome and introduction
Chair: John Vella, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation
Michael Graetz, Columbia University and Yale University
The need for reform
Michael Devereux, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation
Principles for reform
Wolfgang Schön, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance, Munich
Reforms on the current political agenda
Reuven Avi-Yonah, University of Michigan
Valeska Gronert, European Commission
Residual Profit Allocation Proposal
Chair: Wolfgang Schön, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance, Munich
Paul Oosterhuis, Skadden Arps LLP
Michael Keen, International Monetary Fund
Jennifer Blouin, Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania
Steve Edge, Slaughter and May
Destination Based Cash Flow Tax Proposal, and developing countries
Chair: Judith Freedman, University of Oxford
Michael Devereux, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation
Rachel Griffith, Institute for Fiscal Studies and University of Manchester
Malcolm Gammie QC, One Essex Court
Panel Discussion
Chair: Michael Devereux, Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation (Chair)
Ian Brimicombe, AstraZeneca Plc
Alex Cobham, Tax Justice Network
Michael Graetz, Columbia University and Yale University
Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge MBE MP, House of Commons
Vanessa Houlder, Financial Times
John Kay, Financial Times

Tagged as: conference corporate tax tax policy



Tax Avoidance in a World of Aggressive Tax States

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

I finally got around to posting the presentation I made last month at the Journal of Tax Administration Conference on "The Changing Shape of Tax Avoidance." The paper upon which this presentation is based is still in progress, I'll post a draft soon. I would be very happy to have comments on the ideas I am developing in this project.

Tagged as: BEPS CBCR OECD scholarship tax competition



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged as: BEPS international law OECD tax policy treaties



Call for expressions of interest: Moot court on international taxation of digital services

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

I will be presiding over a moot at the annual conference of the International Fiscal Association this fall in Madrid. The topic as described below is vague, but suffice to say that recent news stories are driving (ahem) the topic forward. The moot is now open to expressions of interest by prospective participants who meet the eligibility requirements described below. Here is the info:

Young IFA Network Moot Court – Madrid, September 28, 2016
Expressions of Interest due June 15, 2016

All members of the Young IFA Network are invited to submit an expression of interest as a moot court speaker at the YIN Moot Court during the 70th Congress of the International Fiscal Association in Madrid, Spain.

During recent Congresses in Amsterdam, Kyoto, Brussels, Vancouver, Rome, Paris, Boston, Copenhagen, Mumbai and Basel, the Young IFA Network (YIN) organised a Moot Court.

YIN Moot Court Format
The YIN Moot Court will be held at the Conference Venue on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 from 3:15 pm to 4:45 pm. An acting Tax Judge (Allison Christians, Canada) will preside over a hypothetical tax case relating to digital services to be argued by young tax academics or professionals, one side representing the Tax Authorities and the other side representing the Taxpayer. At the end of the arguments, the acting Tax Judge will render her judgment on the tax case. The fact pattern for the case, the legal issues involved, and a summary of the case will be made available to the delegates before the start of the Moot Court.

Expression of Interest for Speakers at the Moot Court
YIN members that are interested in being one of the speakers at the Moot Court are asked to express their interest to Sanjay Iyer ( on or before June 15, 2016 along with a brief profile/CV that shall assist the Committee in the selection of the speaker.
Eligibility requirements:
1.     YIN Member of an IFA branch
2.     40 years of age or below
3.     Registered for the 2016 Congress in Madrid, Spain.         

Tagged as: BEPS conference corporate tax fiscal state aid tax competition tax policy TFEU transfer pricing treaties



Tax Coop 2016: "Winning the Tax Wars" May 23-24

Published May 16, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Tax Coop and the World Bank are hosting a conference on tax competition and cooperation to be held in Washington DC on May 23-24. As last year, I've constructed the debate, which this year will be livestreamed on May 23 at 16:15 EST.  I'll post the link when I have that information. At last year's conference, Dan Mitchell (Cato) and Richard Murphy (TJN) put corporate taxation on trial, debating the continuing viability of this tax in the face of technological innovation and economic globalization. This year's debaters are Alison Holder of ActionAid and Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

They will debate the following:

What’s Better for Developing Countries: 
Tax Competition or Tax Cooperation?

This question will be explored through a series of three resolutions, as follows:
  1. First, be it resolved that: tax competition harms developing countries by reducing their capability to raise fiscal revenue to finance physical and social infrastructure needed for economic growth and social inclusion.
  2. Second, be it resolved that: tax competition increases developing countries’ reliance on foreign aid, making them more vulnerable to aid volatility. 
  3. Third, be it resolved that: tax competition aggravates existing income disparities between developed and developing countries.
Arguing the “affirming side” of each resolution will be Alison Holder of ActionAid. Arguing the “opposing side” of each resolution will be Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Evidence from all jurisdictions will be admissible. The emphasis will be on persuasive, clear, and logical argumentation. The debate will proceed in four rounds and will be moderated and judged by Louise Otis of McGill University and Jay Rosengard of Harvard University. Last year's debate was definitely a highlight of the conference and I look forward to hosting Ms. Holder and Ms. DeRugy for this year's event. 

The full conference program features a slate of distinguished speakers from around the world and across public, private, and academic sectors.  Registration is free; additional program and speaker information available here and you can follow @taxCoop on twitter for updates and links. 

Tagged as: conference corporate tax economics globalization governance institutions Tax law tax policy



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

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

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.

Tagged as: conference fiscal state aid institutions Tax law tax policy



Understanding the Accidental American: Tina's Story

Published Dec 08, 2015 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Tax Analysts has published my talk on taxpayer rights and citizenship-based taxation as enforced via FATCA, which I gave in November at the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Washington DC, organized by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Tax Analysts' content is normally gated but they have made this column available on their free site.

Tagged as: citizenship compliance fairness FATCA human rights tax policy US



Tax Cooperation and Competition Conference tomorrow in Montreal

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

Tax Coop Montreal will be taking place tomorrow at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal. It promises to be an action-packed day. Here is the conference program:

8:30-9:00 Welcome and Registration
9:00 - 09:10 Opening Remarks
9:10 - 10:15 COMPETITION AND TAXATION: A LOOK AT THE LANDSCAPE: Katharina Becker,  Allison Christians,  Peter Dietsch and Lyne Latulippe
10:40 Break11:00 - 11:40 COMPETING WHEN YOUR COMPETITORS DON’T PAY TAX. INSIDERS’ VIEW: Steven Adams,  Tasso Lagios and Natalie St-Pierre
11:40 - 12:30 FROM GLOBAL TO LOCAL TAX COMPETITION: WHEN TAX COMPETITION HITS CLOSE TO HOME: Governor Sam Brownback,  Blanca Moreno-Dodson and Paul Waldie
12:30 Lunch14:00 - 14:35 THE OECD’S BEPS PROJECT UPDATE: Pascal Saint-Amans
14:35 - 15:10  IT’S LEGAL, BUT IS IT MORAL? TAX MORALITY AND ITS LIMITS: Brian J. Arnold,  Alison Holder and Jean-Pierre Vidal
15:10 - 16:00 OPINION LEADERS WHO HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE: Brigitte Alepin,  Margaret Hodge and Lee Sheppard
16:00 Break16:30 - 17:45 CORPORATE TAX ON TRIAL: Dan Mitchell and Richard Murphy go head to head: Moderated by  Louise Otis and Jay K. Rosengard.
17:45 - 20:00 Closing Cocktail: Toward Tax Coop 2016

Tagged as: conference Montreal tax culture Tax law tax policy



Global Justice Post-2015

Published Oct 31, 2015 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

The Global Justice Program at Yale University is currently hosting a conference exploring the post-2015 agenda for human rights and global justice. List of speakers and topics:

Day One: October 30 
Panel 1: Global Tax Fairness: Allison Christians, Manuel Montes, Erika Siu; Chair: Zorka Milin)  
Amartya Sen Prize Contest Ceremony 
Panel 2: Illicit financial flows, human rights and the post-2015 agenda - Discussion of Independent Expert’s Report: Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Nicholas Lusiani, Léonce Ndikumana, Esther Shubert; Chair: Tom Cardamon 
Panel 3: Addis, Post-2015, and future efforts against Illicit Financial Flows: Tom Cardamone, Steven Dean, Gail Hurley and Jakob Schwab; Chair: Laura Biron 
Day Two: October 31  
Statement of the Health Impact Fund (HIF) and mini-HIF, including discussion: Aidan Hollis, Thomas Pogge; Chair: Alex Sayegh  
Panel 4: Mini-HIF: Piloting the Health Impact Fund: Laura Biron, Aidan Hollis, Peter Maybarduk, Thomas Pogge, Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Wilder; Chair: Tendayi Bloom
Concluding Session on the Health Impact Fund  
Panel 5: Individual Deprivation Measure, Poverty Measurement: Sharon Bessell, Thomas Pogge, Scott Wisor; Chair: Yuan Yuan. 
Day Three: November 1  
Panel 6: Oslo Principles on Climate Change Obligations: Thomas Pogge, Jaap Spier, Kira Vinke; Chair: Shmulik Nili 
Panel 7: Sustainable Development Goals (Daniel Esty, Thomas Pogge, Jeffrey Sachs; Chair: Corinna Mieth.
I presented yesterday on the topic of "Global Tax Fairness." I discussed the connection between taxation and human rights, highlighting the challenges for the realization of rights and justice that are posed by tax competition and exploring whether and how systemic change is possible. I have a couple of works in progress on the topic and will post drafts when ready.

In the meantime, I'm experimenting with making my powerpoint presentations available online (along with other resources in the future). You can view a list here: see pull down menu entitled "resources". Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Tagged as: conference human rights justice tax policy



Mitchell. Murphy. Head to Head Nov 3 in Montreal: Corporate Tax on Trial

Published Oct 21, 2015 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

On Nov 3, there will be a big conference in Montreal on the topic of tax cooperation and competition with presentations by political, business, and academic leaders from around the world; program at the link and I'll post more info soon. A highlight of the day will be a formal debate between Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute and Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, on the topic of corporate taxation: continue it, change it, abolish it? These two titans will debate three resolutions:
  1. First, be it resolved that: the current approach to corporate taxation is a necessary and appropriate means of raising tax revenue.
  2. Second, be it resolved that: corporate taxation is fundamental to preserve personal taxation.
  3. Third, be it resolved that: To the extent that governments tax corporate income, they should do so comprehensively, and not use tax incentives to favour selected types of investment or commerce.
It likely goes without saying that arguing on the “affirming side” of each resolution will be Richard Murphy; arguing on the “opposing side” of each resolution will be Dan Mitchell; the debaters are free to interpret the resolutions broadly and form their arguments accordingly. Evidence from all jurisdictions will be admissible. The debate will be moderated and judged by two eminent judges: Louise Otis (OECD Admin Tribunal & McGill Law) and Jay Rosengard (Harvard Kennedy School of Business). The emphasis will be on persuasive, clear and logical argumentation. This promises to be a lively debate. Registration information for the conference is here.

Tagged as: conference corporate tax Tax law tax policy