Comments on BEPS Action 8: Hard-to-Value Intangibles
The transfer of intangible property rights to related entities is one of the main techniques used by multinational enterprises (MNEs) to avoid taxes through base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS). Such assets are especially hard to value if they are transferred at an early stage, since their income-generating potential will be speculative, although best known to the firm itself. This discussion draft (DD) proposes that, in specific circumstances, the price of the asset transfer can be adjusted subsequently by tax authorities, taking into account the income actually generated. However, the DD specifies a number of conditions which must apply for this approach to be adopted.
Although desirable, in our view the proposals do not go far enough in two respects. First, the mechanism adopted should itself discourage transfers taking advantage of ex ante pricing, which is where most BEPS concerns and risk arise. Second, the DD must aim to reduce the endemic and serious problem of information asymmetry between a tax authority and a company. This is rooted in the requirement under the arm’s length principle to evaluate internal transfers within a firm, since the tax authority can never know a firm’s business better than the firm does.
Hence, we suggest instead a reversal of the burden of proof, with a presumption that any intra-firm transfer of HTVIs should be subject to pricing based on subsequent consideration of the actual income produced, unless the taxpayer can show that specified criteria were satisfied. We also propose two additional criteria for such a showing: proof that the transfer did not result in a significantly lower effective tax rate, and a ‘purpose test’ requiring satisfactory evidence of the legal and commercial reasons for the transfer. This reversal of the burden of proof will create a much stronger incentive for firms to cease tax-motivated transfers of intangibles. In addition, to provide more certainty, we suggest an APA-like ruling process.