Wealth & Risk Management Blog

William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

OECD releases BEPS draft for Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy

Posted by William Byrnes on March 25, 2014


The OECD released Monday, March 24, a discussion draft on the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy.

In July 2013, the OECD published its Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. The Action Plan identifies 15 actions to address BEPS in a comprehensive manner and sets deadlines to implement these actions. Excerpting from the Report, Action 1 reads as follows:

Action 1 Address the tax challenges of the digital economy

Identify the main difficulties that the digital economy poses for the application of existing international tax rules and develop detailed options to address these difficulties, taking a holistic approach and considering both direct and indirect taxation. Issues to be examined include, but are not limited to, the ability of a company to have a significant digital presence in the economy of another country without being liable to taxation due to the lack of nexus under current international rules, the attribution of value created from the generation of marketable location-relevant data through the use of digital products and services, the characterisation of income derived from new business models, the application of related source rules, and how to ensure the effective collection of VAT/GST with respect to the cross-border supply of digital goods and services. Such work will require a thorough analysis of the various business models in this sector.

The OECD’s March 24 discussion draft on the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy, after surveying the elements of the new global digital economy, outlines the tax minimization techniques and then provides broad proposals to reduce the BEPS resulting therefrom. Below, I have excerpted and paraphrased the relevant aspects to provide an overview.

Section IV “Identifying Opportunities for BEPS in the Digital Economy” undertakes a general discussion of the common features of tax planning structures that raise BEPS concerns. Section IV then describes the core elements of BEPS strategies with respect to both direct and indirect taxation.  The common features of digital economy tax planning features include:

Eliminating or reducing tax in the market country

  • Avoiding a Taxable Presence
  • Minimizing Functions, Assets and Risks in Market Jurisdictions
  • Maximizing Deductions in Market Jurisdictions

Eliminating or reducing tax in the intermediate country

Eliminating or reducing tax in the country of residence of the ultimate parent

Avoiding withholding tax

Opportunities for BEPS with respect to VAT

  • Remote digital supplies to exempt businesses
  • Remote digital supplies to a multi-location enterprise (MLE)

Section V “Tackling BEPS in the Digital Economy” of the discussion draft examines how work on the actions of the BEPS Action Plan and in the area of indirect taxation will address BEPS issues arising in the digital economy. This section also highlights the particular characteristics of the digital economy that must be taken into account to ensure that the measures developed effectively address BEPS in the digital economy.

Restoring Taxation on Stateless Income

Measures that will restore taxation in the market jurisdiction

  • Prevent Treaty Abuse (Action 6)
  • Prevent the Artificial Avoidance of PE Status (Action 7)

Measures that will restore taxation in both market and ultimate parent jurisdictions

  • Neutralize the Effects of Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements (Action 2)
  • Limit Base Erosion via Interest Deductions and Other Financial Payments (Action 4 and Action 9)
  • Counter Harmful Tax Practices More Effectively (Action 5)

Assure that transfer pricing outcomes are in line with value creation (Actions 8-10)

  • Intangibles, including hard-to-value intangibles, and cost contribution arrangements
  • Business risks
  • Characterization of transactions
  • Base eroding payments
  • Global value chains and profit methods

Addressing BEPS Issues in the Area of Consumption Taxes

Section VI “Broader Tax Challenges Raised by the Digital Economy” discusses the challenges that the digital economy raises for direct taxation, with respect to nexus, the tax treatment of data, and characterization of payments made under new business models. Section VI also discusses the indirect tax challenges raised by the digital economy with respect to exemptions for imports of low-valued goods, and remote digital supplies to consumers. Thereafter, Section VI lists administrative challenges faced by tax administrations in applying the current rules.

An overview of the tax challenges raised by the digital economy includes:

  • Nexus and the Ability to have a Significant Presence without Being Liable to Tax
  • Data and the Attribution of Value Created from the Generation of Marketable Location-Relevant Data through the Use of Digital Products and Services
  • Characterization of Income Derived from New Business Models
  • Collection of VAT in the Digital Economy

Section VII “Potential Options to Address The Broader Tax Challenges Raised by the Digital Economy” provides a brief framework for evaluating options to address the broader tax challenges raised by the digital economy. This section then provides an overview of potential options that have been received by the Task Force, along with a description of some of the issues that will need to be addressed in developing and evaluating those options.

Modifications to the Exemptions from Permanent Establishment Status

A New Nexus based on Significant Digital Presence

Virtual Permanent Establishment

Creation of a Withholding Tax on Digital Transactions

Consumption Tax Options

  • Exemptions for Imports of Low Valued Good
  • Remote digital supplies to consumers

Submitting Comments to OECD

Interested parties are invited to submit comments electronically in Word on this discussion draft, before 5.00pm on April 14, 2014 to CTP.BEPS@oecd.org.

Persons and organisations who intend to send comments on this discussion draft are invited to indicate by April 7 whether they wish to speak in support of their comments at a public consultation meeting on Action 1 (Address the tax challenges of the digital economy), which is scheduled to be held in Paris at the OECD Conference Centre on April 23, 2014. Persons wishing to attend this public consultation meeting should fill out their request for registration on line as soon as possible but by April 7, 2014.

This meeting will also be broadcast live on the internet and can be accessed on line. No advance registration is required for this internet access.

practical_guide_book

Lexis’ Practical Guide to U.S. Transfer Pricing (William Byrnes & the late Robert Cole (2013)) is designed to help multinationals cope with the U.S. transfer pricing rules and procedures, taking into account the international norms established by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is also designed for use by tax administrators, both those belonging to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and those belonging to the tax administrations of other countries, and tax professionals in and out of government, corporate executives, and their non-tax advisors, both American and foreign.  Fifty co-authors contribute subject matter expertise on technical issues faced by tax and risk management counsel.

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