More cooperative action is urgently needed by countries associated with the Belt and Road Initiative to mitigate the tax related obstacles in cross-border trade and investment, according to BRI tax authorities.
The authorities are calling for a new approach in the next two years to resolve the lack of clarity and frequent changes of basic tax rules that confuse cross-border taxpayers and to jointly resolve tax disputes, especially as technology-driven and digital business models are emerging.
Other key issues of concern for the tax authorities include multinational companies seeking ways to shift profits to low tax-rate areas or to avoid paying taxes; transfer pricing activities - companies and subsidiaries shifting goods and services among each other to create tax benefits - which increasingly trigger tax disputes; and double taxation, which adds to the costs of cross-border trade and investment.
During a three-day conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, an action plan was formed and a new vehicle was established for coordinating work under a unified system in countries involved in the initiative to limit the negative effects of complex tax related issues.
Instead of just talking about the tax issues, we should actually do something to implement the approach," said Wang Jun, commissioner of the State Taxation Administration.
During the conference, Wang was elected council chairman of the new multilateral Belt and Road Initiative Tax Administration Mechanism, or BRITACʘM.
A two-year plan was agreed to at the conference that would increase predictability and consistency in the application of tax laws, tax treaties and administrative practices.
BRITACʘM will conduct a survey "to better understand cross-border tax disputes in BRI jurisdictions by collecting further information on the types and causes of disputes", the plan said.
An evaluation of the plan's implementation will be made before 2021. The next BRITACʘM conference is scheduled to be hosted by Kazakhstan in 2020.
The action plan was announced along with a statement agreed on by the initial BRITACʘM members from 34 BRI countries and regions, as well as by observers and other stakeholders. They called for innovative measures to minimize and resolve crossborder tax disputes in a timely and principled manner, to better protect the legitimate rights of taxpayers and to secure the domestic tax base.
"We are determined to apply the laws and the tax treaties in a fair, predictable and consistent fashion," the statement said.
Kees van Raad, a professor at the international tax center of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said, "Cooperation is desirable, as a lot of tasks need to be done. But the BRI countries need to find out which are the priorities."
A recent survey of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the top factor affecting investment and location decisions is uncertainty about the effective tax rate on profits, according to Ludger Schuknecht, OECD deputy secretary-general.
"Enterprises investing and operating in BRI countries point to often serious levels of tax uncertainty that arise from poorly drafted, unclear or complex tax rules, excessive documentation requirements and unpredictable or inconsistent tax treatment," said Lewis Lu, head of advisory services provider KPMG China.
During the conference, the example was given of Zhangzhou Kibing Glass Co in Zhangzhou, Fujian province. When the executives decided to inject 1.17 billion yuan ($174.5 million) in Malaysia for two new production lines, the company was asked to pay further remittance tax on interest income, which was not mentioned during the investment decision-making process.
State Taxation Administration officials helped the company with contacting Malaysia's tax authority, and 34 million yuan in tax was saved after a negotiation, said Cao Yuchang, executive manager of the company.
To stimulate cross-border trade and investment and reduce tax uncertainty, Schuknecht suggested that BRITACʘM provide professional support and strengthen information sharing among its members, as well as provide training for tax authorities and taxpayers.
"The mechanism is very significant to improving global tax cooperation," he said.
BRITACʘM, according to its statement, supports and reinforces prevailing international tax standards, including the existing OECD, United Nations and International Monetary Fund models to solve international tax issues.
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde wrote in a recent article that a fundamental rethinking of international taxation is needed.
"An immediate impetus for an overhaul has been the rise of highly profitable, technology-driven, digital-heavy business models. By rethinking the existing system and addressing the root causes of its weakness, all countries should benefit, including low-income ones," she said.