The Inward Investment and International Taxation Review: Editor's Preface
This edition has been revised to describe domestic tax changes that have occurred in each jurisdiction since the last edition, including those made, and proposed, in response to the covid-19 pandemic. Where appropriate, the contributors also update the progress made in their respective jurisdictions in implementing laws to comply with the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Actions.
The pandemic's economic impact has been profound, and while temporary reliefs have been introduced in many countries, and are described, at this stage it is unclear how countries will change their tax laws in the longer term and balance the need to recover the enormous costs of the pandemic with the desire to stimulate economic growth in contracting economies. How this conflict will evolve and be resolved seems likely to be the major tax story of 2021. This preface will make some tentative observations in this area.
As will be seen from the chapters herein, in 2020, countries continued to implement changes to their domestic laws to comply with BEPS Actions notably in respect of hybrid entities and instruments, controlled foreign companies and transfer pricing. One key area highlighted last year, which has progressed in 2020, is the taxation of the digital economy. In October 2020, the OECD published two blueprints and launched a public consultation as part of its work on the taxation of the digital economy. These blueprints are key developments in the international conversation on the challenges of taxing the digital economy. However, although the OECD has progressed efforts in 2020 to find a consensus, many countries, frustrated by the lack of concrete law, are progressing their own unilateral measures to tax the digital economy. For example, Spain's 'Google Tax' is due to come into force on 16 January 2021 and the United Kingdom has already introduced a Digital Services Tax. Pressure for unilateral action is likely to increase as countries look for new tax sources to recover revenue spent on fighting covid-19. Potentially taxation of digital companies allows many economies to raise material amounts of tax revenue without an adverse economic impact on the recovery in their own jurisdictions, where the digital taxpayers often have minimal presence and pay little tax. However, that analysis must factor in whether the US, that has most to lose (as many of the largest digital companies are US-based), will take retaliatory action. The previous political regime showed that it is willing to impose tariffs on goods imported from countries that unilaterally impose a digital tax. This is an area to watch carefully in 2021. The increased pressure to tax the digital economy because of the covid-19 pandemic has been acknowledged by the OECD, with the OECD Secretary-General stating on an online press conference on 12 October 2020 that digital businesses that are thriving during the pandemic would 'be the targets' of countries looking for resources to 'make ends meet'.
Many countries have introduced packages of short-term tax measures to help businesses and individuals through the pandemic. These may comprise deferring tax payments and extending filing deadlines, to subsidies such as those afforded to businesses that furloughed staff and measures allowing more generous loss carry-back. The question countries must face in 2021 is how long they can afford to provide these short-term reliefs and what will replace them. There is a lot of pressure to help certain sectors particularly hard hit by the pandemic such as tourism and hospitality and, for example, Austria's reduction in VAT to 5 per cent on restaurants, and admission to cultural events for 2021 is the sort of measure one might expect to be introduced elsewhere.
The wider question is how countries can reconcile the desire to provide economic support and stimulus for growth after the pandemic with the need to recover the budget deficit caused by covid-19 pandemic-related costs: how to raise additional tax from shrinking economies, without stifling any recovery. As referred to above, one obvious target is to tax the digital economy; another possible avenue is to introduce measures that encourage inward investment. It is also likely that in the drive to increase tax revenues, many tax authorities will take a far more aggressive and proactive approach to recover tax and penalties from tax payers regarded as non-compliant or participating in perceived tax avoidance. However, it would be naïve to imagine that these sorts of measures alone will be enough and even if one factors in tax changes in areas such as personal capital taxes, it seems likely that some increase in business and personal income taxes will be needed.
How US tax reform in 2021, post the presidential election, evolves is another factor likely to impact the wider tax landscape and is an area that needs to be kept under review.
It is hoped that this volume will prove to be a useful guide to the tax rules in the jurisdictions where clients conduct their businesses. Each chapter aims to provide topical and current insights from leading experts on the tax issues and opportunities in their respective jurisdictions. While specific tax advice is always essential, it is also necessary to have a broad understanding of the nature of the potential issues and advantages that lie ahead; this book provides a guide to these.
I should like to thank the contributors to this book for their time and efforts, and above all for their expertise. I would also like to thank the publisher and the team for their support and patience. I hope that you find the work useful, and any comments or suggestions for improvement that can be incorporated into any future editions will be gratefully received.
The views expressed in this book are those of the authors and not of their firms, the editor or the publishers. Every endeavour has been made to ensure that what you read is the latest intelligence.