ICTD Working Paper 18
As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) moves to the final stages of its work on base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), this paper reflects on the most promising directions for legislative changes and other action which developing countries might take to protect their corporate tax bases. The paper observes that the barriers facing developing countries generally do not arise from technical difficulties in designing and implementing legislative measures. Indeed, effective controls on base erosion are well-known among policy-makers, particularly limitations on outbound deductions and withholding taxes to discourage excessive outbound payments to affiliates. Instead, the most important impediment to effective control of base erosion is the pressure of tax competition – namely, the fear that effectively imposing income taxes on inbound investors will deter employment and economic growth. The paper does not seek to assess the objective validity of this fear, but observes that it is in fact pervasive, and that effective policy-making must recognise the practical political barriers this fear imposes. With the seriousness of tax competition borne in mind, the paper enumerates and briefly comments on the following topics, all of which should be developed in future research efforts: (i) the possible utility of simplified measures to discourage base erosion, notably the greater use of withholding taxes (a measure which the OECD’s BEPS effort has not sought to address); (ii) the potential for both incremental changes to transfer pricing rules to facilitate enforcement and administration (for example, the use of Brazil-style standard margins and markups), as well as the longer-term possibility of unitary taxation; (iii) the importance of regional coordination of tax policies to mitigate tax competition; and (iv) the continuing role of international groups such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and non-government organisations in assisting developing countries to generate realistic assessments of the trade-off which may exist between effective corporate taxation and inbound investment.