BEPS experts ponder uncertain future for arm’s-length principle

The arm’s-length principle for international transfer pricing continues to have widespread support, a senior OECD official told a London conference amid concerns about the effectiveness of the base erosion and profit-shifting project.

A discussion on the future of the arm’s-length principle on November 29 was hosted by the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation, whose director Michael Devereux noted that the BEPS project has “triggered a material hike in the complexity of applying” the principle. Richard Collier, an associate fellow at the Centre for Business Taxation, warned that “a continued vulnerability to avoidance will present recurrent and profound difficulties.”

Tomas Balco, the recently appointed head of the transfer pricing unit at the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, offered a personal perspective of “where countries think we are” in relation to the arm’s-length principle … Noting that a previous speaker argued that the principle may not have a long-term future, Balco said feedback from delegates to the OECD’s Working Party 6 on transfer pricing suggests that “nobody thinks the patient is dying.” Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, December 2 ($)

How should we tax multinationals?

My Tax Analysts news story on the debate hosted by the Women in Tax network on November 20 is now free to view.

Governments considering how multinationals should be taxed must address the erosion of public trust in tax administrations, while businesses continue to stress the importance of certainty in tax matters, panellists told a conference hosted by the Women in Tax network at Pinsent Masons’s London office.

UK mulls royalty withholding tax to target digital economy

The UK government is consulting on an extension of withholding tax on royalty payments and is prepared to take unilateral action if insufficient progress is made on multilateral solutions to challenges posed by the digital economy, according to a position paper released alongside the autumn budget.

The challenge that digitisation poses for sustainability and fairness in the tax system can only be properly solved on an international basis, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told members of Parliament November 22. The position paper sets out the government’s emerging thinking about potential solutions, he said. “But in the meantime,” he added, “we will take what action we can.”

My news story for Tax Analysts, November 23 (paywall)

UK legislates for stand-alone customs regime and VAT changes

A bill to lay the foundations for a stand-alone, post-Brexit customs regime will help ensure “that goods can move smoothly and safely in and out of the UK, and that everyone pays the right tax,” the government said, a week after a parliamentary committee warned that failure to establish a Brexit-ready system would be catastrophic.

The 170-page taxation (cross-border trade) bill, formerly known as the customs bill, will allow the UK to set and collect its own duty on goods entering the country and to implement different outcomes of the Brexit negotiations, including an implementation period, HM Treasury and the Department for International Trade said in a joint release on November 21.

My news story for Tax Analysts, November 23 (paywall)

Governments must address need to restore public trust in tax, adviser says

Governments considering how multinationals should be taxed must address the erosion of public trust in tax administrations, while businesses continue to stress the importance of certainty in tax matters, panellists told a conference hosted by the Women in Tax network at Pinsent Masons’s London office November 20. Alexandra Readhead, an international tax and extractive industries consultant, said multinationals should be taxed “in a way that creates resources for public trust.”

Lizzie Arnold, a senior policy adviser at HM Treasury, outlined the UK government’s perspective on the taxation of multinationals. She described three aims, the first of which is to create a competitive corporate tax system … Giorgia Maffini, senior tax economist at the OECD, noted that residence and source are the two principles that define how multinationals are taxed. “We are trying to understand whether it’s time to think of another principle,” she said … Corporations are looking for “a bedrock of certainty” to provide stability, said Anna Elphick, vice president of tax for Asia and Africa at Unilever. Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, November 22 (paywall)

Tax specialists advocate cautious response to Paradise Papers

More could be done to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, but it is important not to tar all offshore activity with the same brush in the wake of the Paradise Papers, UK tax professionals suggested. One expert said simplification could reduce opportunities for those who seek to abuse the system.

As UK lawmakers and campaigners stepped up demands for greater transparency, Jonathan Riley, head of tax at Grant Thornton UK LLP, told Tax Analysts that the controversy “may represent the last chance for the tax profession to show it takes evidence of artificial tax avoidance seriously and will not promote it.” Riley noted that advisers are subject to many disclosure and compliance rules but tax is “still largely self-regulated.” It will be interesting to see whether the tax and accountancy bodies’ code on Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation, updated with effect from March, is invoked in any cases featured in the Paradise Papers, he said. Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, November 17 ($)