Will we see a global arm wrestle for tax revenue in a post-Covid world?

Sam O'Connor
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With hopes Covid is now somewhat in the rearview mirror, the pace of change in the transfer pricing space has not slowed down.

The OECD continues to drive the base erosion profit shifting (BEPS) programme to minimise tax competition among jurisdictions and ensure multinationals pay their fair share. However, the effectiveness of the programme’s final stages depends on the willingness of countries to implement and enforce these rules consistently. It remains to be seen how tax authorities worldwide will adapt to these changes and if a new era of cooperation will indeed emerge in the global tax landscape.

However, with economies around the world still in or coming out of recession, there are questions around whether the 142 countries that have signed up to the BEPS framework remain committed to such a unified approach, or if there will be a shift to a ‘every jurisdiction for themselves’ mentality.

As some economists have indicated, there are signs certain economies are shifting away from a focus on globalisation to looking inward and more national economic protectionism.

What does this mean for New Zealand-based multinationals?

There seems to be a stand-off between countries waiting to see who will jump first. In the meantime, some have implemented the needed regulations, while others – like New Zealand - have also hedged their bets and have legislation waiting as a backup, as demonstrated by the introduction of the digital services tax laws brought in by the Labour Government.

The current National-led Government is yet to confirm if this will remain, be repealed, changed or trumpeted, but it has increased resources for Inland Revenue to expand its audit capacity, minimise taxation losses and ensure greater integrity and fairness in our tax system. And it’s likely there will be heightened proactivity in this space so the Government can collect the extra revenue needed to deliver on its election policies.

This means change for multinationals could be on the way, and transfer pricing rules may be an area in which Inland Revenue increases audit activity; this may also not be limited to the tax authority of New Zealand but others around the world.

The key for potentially affected Kiwi businesses will be to:

  • review their New Zealand and global transfer pricing policies to ensure they remain fit for purpose
  • establish suitable governance to implement these policies appropriately
  • keep management up to date with changes in the transfer pricing space.

Countries will be weighing up the benefits of a unified approach against the temptation of self-interest, while businesses grapple with economic uncertainties and transfer pricing rules which will continue to change. As New Zealand and other countries await international unification, internal pressures will continue to mount, setting the stage for a complex interplay between economic recovery, taxation, and the delicate dance of international relations.