Monday 28 January 2013

Dutch sandwich in danger, but most of the pie remains untaxed

From Mary-Ellen Field (Chairman, Brand Finance), via Mark Colvin, comes news of "No more “Dutch Sandwich”? The Netherlands reviews its role in tax avoidance" by Cyrus Farivar, posted on Ars Technica last week (here). According to this post, in relevant part:
"In recent years, governments have become increasingly aware of the fact that lots of major corporations -- notably tech companies including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Dell, and many others -- are using shady, albeit legal, techniques to shift income in ways that drastically minimize a company's tax burden. A trick known as the “Dutch Sandwich,” in which companies move money through the Netherlands, has become one of the preferred ways of reducing a firm's financial liability. ...

Here’s how it works: as Bloomberg also reported in 2010, a company sells or licenses its foreign rights to intellectual property developed in the United States to a subsidiary in a country with lower tax rates. That means that in many cases, companies will license their own IP to one of their own foreign subsidiaries (often based in Ireland), whose profits then stop over in the Netherlands. In turn, those profits finally settle in Bermuda, a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic, and a notorious tax haven. ...".
Last Wednesday, however, a Dutch parliamentary committee met to consider the fairness of its own tax system and to re-evaluate its role as part of a legal financial chain that allows companies to reduce the amount of tax they pay. Other European countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and France, are also looking more closely at the tax arrangements of international IT and online businesses, which either pay little tax of any description or, when they do pay tax, they tend not to pay it in European countries in which they have been profitably trading.

 It seems to this blogger that European countries will have to sort out their priorities before they can individually get to grips with the problem of international companies which earn megabucks and pay little or no tax in the EU.  This is because real and meaningful taxation is only going to be raised when all 27 (soon to be 28) Member States have identical tax rules, while each EU Member State would like to be seen to be that bit more attractive in tax terms than its neighbours, in order to attract foreign businesses to base themselves and their IP portfolios locally.  The businesses themselves will naturally wish to exploit any tax differentials and pay where tax is at the lowest rate, thus encouraging a race to the bottom.

Double Irish Dutch Sandwich explained here

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