The international tax system is changing rapidly as a result of coordinated actions by governments and of unilateral measures designed by individual countries, both intended to tackle concerns over base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) and perceived international tax avoidance techniques of high-profile multinationals. The recommendations of the BEPS Project led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and published in October 2015 are at the root of much of the coordinated activity, although the timing and methods of implementation vary. At the completion of this scheduled programme, it started to be recognised as the end of phase one of the project and the start of phase two, dealing with outstanding or additional work, implementation and monitoring.
The OECD’s Action Plan on BEPS was published in July 2013 with a view to addressing perceived flaws in international tax rules. The 40 page Action Plan, which was negotiated and drafted with the active participation of its member states, contained 15 separate action points or work streams, some of which were further split into specific actions or outputs. The Plan was squarely focused on addressing these issues in a coordinated, comprehensive manner, and was endorsed by G20 leaders and finance ministers at their summit in St. Petersburg in September 2013.
The BEPS Project had been initiated by the G20 countries but it effectively also encompassed the other OECD Member States from the outset. As the project progressed, engagement in the discussions was extended to other large non-OECD states and representatives of developing countries. The OECD published over 1600 pages in the ‘final’ reports in relation to all 15 BEPS Action items in October 2015. The UN, IMF, World Bank and OECD are developing toolkits to assist “lowest income countries” in implementing the outcomes of the BEPS Project, so far as they are relevant to those countries or to address related issues. A framework has been agreed for all countries to participate in further BEPS work on an equal footing, , broadly if they commit to implementing the minimum standards
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It may take some while for the impact of these recommendations to be fully applied in practice, but the BEPS Project and related developments are constantly leading to the need for business to take action (in some cases, urgent action) both to comply with new requirements and to consider the ways in which they do business in different countries. To the extent that the changes relate to the OECD’s Model Tax Convention and Transfer Pricing Guidelines, their implementation is assured and should follow fairly quickly. The speed with which they are then implemented in existing bilateral tax treaties will be heavily linked with the success of the OECD’s proposed “multilateral instrument”, which it is planned should be available for signature by 31 December 2016. The proposed OECD rule changes that involve amendments being made by individual territories to domestic tax rules are being widely but not universally adopted, though consistency remains a challenge.
Governments, revenue authorities and business will all have a material role to play over coming months if the proposed changes are to be effective.
Stef van Weeghel
Leader, Global Tax Policy & Administration Network
Tel: +31 (0) 88 792 6763
Deputy Leader, Global Tax Policy & Administration Network, PwC United States
Tel: +1 (202) 312 7662
Partner, Transfer Pricing and Tax Policy, PwC Global
Tel:  207 212 8830
EMEA Tax Policy Leader, PwC Netherlands
Tel: +31 88 792 3611