BEPS Action Plan: Action 2 – Hybrid mismatch arrangements

The OECD’s second action point in the BEPS Action Plan is to “neutralise the effects of hybrid mismatch arrangements”. Our commentary, and links to content, on action 2 are included here.

 

Updates

 

3 June 2014

The OECD’s Annual Conference in Washington DC provided insight into several outstanding issues…

including the fact that there seems to be convergence toward the bottom-up approach that would see matters within scope being specifically included rather than a top-down blanket definition with limited carve-outs.

It was reiterated that EU representatives have been involved in the discussions and their current work for example on the Parent-Sub Directive is consistent with the overall BEPS approach.

Timing issues are something that the group is still working on though it was acknowledged that this was something that they were struggling with.

On thresholds, it was mentioned that the current thinking was for a 25% control test on various financial instruments with a 50% standard otherwise.

 

26 May 2014

The OECD’s webcast today noted that the Working Party/Task Force was discussing …

a number of outstanding technical issues. It was again stipulated that there has been "very close coordination" with the European Commission in coming to solutions which will be widely applicable.

It was reiterated that EU representatives have been involved in the discussions and their current work for example on the Parent-Sub Directive is consistent with the overall BEPS approach.

Timing issues are something that the group is still working on though it was acknowledged that this was something that they were struggling with.

On thresholds, it was mentioned that the current thinking was for a 25% control test on various financial instruments with a 50% standard otherwise.

 

15 May 2014

The bulk of the discussion at today’s public meeting repeated points made in general feedback and related to the OECD recommendations for domestic law change such that …

the OECD Secretariat claimed most people supported a linking approach rather than a motive or abuse test (yet very many comments through the day suggested strong support for a motive/ abuse test).

Concerns were voiced about whether there would be widespread acceptance and implementation in practice - if not, the difficulties would be exacerbated. There were also questions raised about whether the proposals were too broad given the intended target of abuse.

There was overwhelming push back from the meeting against the proposals for a 10 per cent threshold of relevant ownership for related party test on the basis it is much tougher than is needed and is impossible to apply in practice. A threshold is needed that secures effective control in this context. The secretariat reported that it had received a range of suggestions on the precise level of ownership and was interested in comments as to whether, say, a 30 per cent test would work as a mid point.

It was pointed out that making domestic rules depend on the operation of foreign law would be difficult and is unattractive, raising significant compliance/ implementation issues. Concerns were also expressed about alignment with EU proposed rules on hybrids and also conflict with EU law - which suggests the OECD rules should operate only in cases of abuse (but reported by the Secretariat that the work on BEPS generally and hybrids also is being done with participation of the European Commission).

There was some discussion of treaty issues. A suggestion made to the OECD was to apply a more consistent approach to the distributive articles (6-21 of the OECD Model) by using the standard phrase "derived by" rather than the various phrases currently used such as "paid to" etc. The OECD was resistant to the suggestion as it potentially required changes to many articles in the treaty ( though it was pointed out the change could be delivered by a change to the definition rules in art 3 alone).

The Secretariat recognised the competent authority process needed to be improved.

 

8 May 2014

A 457-page consolidated document comprising 69 responses (including our own) on Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements ...

has been published by the OECD.

 

19 March 2014

The OECD has released two discussion draft papers on hybrid mismatch arrangements. Links to the press release and the papers:

  • Press release: Release of discussion drafts on Action 2 (Neutralise the effects of hybrid mismatch arrangements) of the BEPS Action Plan
  • First discussion draft: Neutralise the effects of Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements – Recommendations for Domestic Laws
  • Second discussion draft Neutralise the effects of Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements – Treaty Aspects of the Work on Action 2 of the BEPS Action Plan

If the recommendations are widely adopted they are likely to have a significant impact on multinational enterprises (MNEs). The OECD reports have a strong focus on intra-group financing, although other arrangements are not excluded. It is not surprising, given the scope of Action 2 of the OECD Action Plan, that the reports focus on the incidence of double non-taxation, and measures to combat such incidences. To ensure appropriate balance, it will be important that the OECD addresses the potential for double taxation which could, inadvertently or otherwise, arise as a consequence of the proposed changes.

The draft reports describe “hybrid mismatch arrangements” as being the result of a difference in the characterisation of an entity or arrangement under the laws of two or more tax jurisdictions that result in a mismatch in tax outcomes. The hybrid mismatch arrangements targeted in the reports are those that result in a lower aggregated tax burden for the parties involved. The OECD considers these arrangements to harm competition, economic efficiency, transparency and fairness.

Click here to read our Tax Policy Bulletin on the Discussion Draft.

 

21 February 2014

There has been much speculation about what will be in the OECD’s proposed Discussion Draft of recommendations on tackling hybrid mismatches but dates …

have now been announced provisionally by the OECD for publication of the draft (4 April), the deadline for comments to be made to the OECD (4 May) and a public consultation meeting at the OECD (15-16 May).

 

2 September 2013

Various countries (e.g. Denmark, Germany, UK) have in the past taken actions through domestic law provisions. These are likely to contribute to the …

design of what is considered best practice – and the OECD already has done detailed work in this area in identifying problems and possible solutions (see our bulletin on the OECD report on Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements of March 2012).

Hybrid instruments

  • The EU intends to adapt the ‘parent subsidiary directive’, as noted in The EC Action Plan of 6 December 2012.
  • This would, in particular, give effect to the political agreement reached in 2010 by member states in the Code of Conduct Group on profit participating loans (PPLs).
  • The EC plan aims to stop the directive requiring exemption from taxation of distributions received when they are deductible for tax purposes in the source country.
  • This could even result in a new approach with the directive specifically mandating a tax charge rather than permitting a relief in specified circumstances.
  • The main problem that has faced action on hybrid instruments is though that they are in practice difficult to define.

Hybrid entities

  • Hybrid entities are arguably easier to define in theory and identify in practice and consensus on how to deal with them might be more easily reached.
  • Although potentially of significant scope, short-term action in the US at the entity level (eg cutting back on check-the-box) is likely to be hampered though by political deadlock and the wider domestic tax reform agenda in the US.

 

26 July 2013

An interesting point of interest in this area is the extent to which the coherence of tax rules to produce a level playing field between MNCs and nationally-based entities …

has become a more important influence in some territories. MNCs should not, they suggest, have access to more sophisticated planning techniques than those entities operating solely within a domestic market. This line of argument clearly adds pressure for action against hybrids.

 

19 July 2013

As indicated in the Action Plan, the focus on hybrids is premised on the need to address gaps created by the interactions between domestic tax laws. The Plan states …

there is a need to create standards to establish international coherence in corporate income taxation. The action on hybrids in particular is explained by reference to the use of such instruments to achieve unintended double non-taxation or long-term tax deferral (e.g. by double deductions, or generating deductions without corresponding income inclusions).

The action point is multi-faceted and includes work on the Model Treaty and recommendations for domestic law change. Model Treaty provisions are to be developed to prevent undue benefits under treaties for such hybrid arrangements (presumably countering the ability of such instruments to access treaty withholding tax reductions) and various changes for domestic law are to be considered, primarily in relation to deductibility. The work on hybrids will be coordinated with the work on interest expense deduction limitations, CFCs and treaty shopping (see below). On hybrids in particular, the OECD presumably has a head start from its recent work culminating in its report on Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements, as discussed in our April 2012 Bulletin

The Action Plan calls for recommendations in relation to the Model Treaty and domestic law to be completed within one year, by September 2014.



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