BEPS: Indirect tax (VAT / GST) challenges

The digital economy also raises broader tax challenges for policy makers. These challenges relate in particular to nexus, data, and characterisation for direct tax purposes, which often overlap with each other. The digital economy also creates challenges for value added tax (VAT) collection, particularly where goods, services and intangibles are acquired by private consumers from suppliers abroad. The TFDE discussed and analysed a number of potential options to address these challenges, including through an analysis of their economic incidence, and concluded that:

• The option to modify the exceptions to PE status in order to ensure that they are available only for activities that are in fact preparatory or auxiliary in nature that was adopted as a result of the work on Action 7 of the BEPS Project is expected to be implemented across the existing tax treaty network in a synchronised and efficient manner via the conclusion of the multilateral instrument that modifies bilateral tax treaties under Action 15.

• The collection of VAT/GST on cross-border transactions, particularly those between businesses and consumers, is an important issue. Countries are thus recommended to apply the principles of the International VAT/GST Guidelines and consider the introduction of the collection mechanisms included therein.

• None of the other options analysed by the TFDE, namely (i) a new nexus in the form of a significant economic presence, (ii) a withholding tax on certain types of digital transactions, and (iii) an equalisation levy, were recommended at this stage. This is because, among other reasons, it is expected that the measures developed in the BEPS Project will have a substantial impact on BEPS issues previously identified in the digital economy, that certain BEPS measures will mitigate some aspects of the broader tax challenges, and that consumption taxes will be levied effectively in the market country.

• Countries could, however, introduce any of these three options in their domestic laws as additional safeguards against BEPS, provided they respect existing treaty obligations, or in their bilateral tax treaties. Adoption as domestic law measures would require further calibration of the options in order to provide additional clarity about the details, as well as some adaptation to ensure consistency with existing international legal commitments.

The particular indirect tax challenges as a result of the digital economy are explored in the articles below.