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Mark P. Thomas, PC, advises clients on all aspects of taxation, including complex civil tax controversies and litigation, transfer pricing, and domestic and international tax planning issues. Mark has extensive experience in resolving a broad spectrum of domestic and international tax matters at all stages of a dispute, including US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examinations, administrative appeals and litigation. Read Mark Thomas' full bio.

In recent months, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International Division (LB&I) has issued a variety of international tax practice “units” as part of its process to improve tax compliance from identified groups of business taxpayers. The overall process also includes short descriptions of respective “campaigns” and briefly describes the agency’s designated, tailored treatment or treatments for each campaign.

Most recently, it issued a unit on the mutual agreement procedure (MAP), commonly referred to as the Competent Authority Process under bilateral tax treaties (Doc Control No. ISO/P/01_07_03-01). The purpose of the unit is to provide IRS examiners (for the most part, the unit does not address foreign-initiated adjustments) with clear guidance on their responsibility in situations where proposed adjustments will be made in a context in which the taxpayer could potentially face double taxation, consistent with the most recent revenue procedure (Rev. Proc.) 2015-40. The unit also provides a helpful checklist for taxpayers in such situations.

The unit amplifies the guidance in Rev. Proc. 2015-40 with respect to both issues arising in Advance Pricing and Mutual Agreement (APMA) and Treaty Assistance and Interpretation Team (TAIT) (for non-transfer pricing issues). The discussion is consistent with current practice. Critical issues addressed include the following. Continue Reading International Practice Units – Competent Authority

On March 7, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a new International Practice Unit (IPU) on a specific transfer pricing method—the residual profit split method (RPSM).  The IPU explains to IRS examiners how to determine if the RPSM is the “best method” under Section 482, and if so, how to apply such method between a US parent and its controlled foreign corporation in a transaction where intangible property is employed.  As stated in a previous post, IPUs generally identify strategic areas of importance to the IRS but they are not official pronouncements of law or directives and cannot be used, cited or relied upon as such.  However, taxpayers should benefit from reviewing IPUs, as they reflect the current thinking of the IRS on pertinent issues, and therefore allow taxpayers to structure and document their transfer pricing arrangements in a manner that is consistent with such thinking, as noted in a prior post available here.

Section 482 was designed to prevent the improper shifting or distorting of the true taxable income of related enterprises.  Section 482 accomplishes this by requiring that all transactions between related enterprises must satisfy the arm’s length standard.  That is, the terms of intercompany transactions generally must reflect the same pricing that would have occurred if the parties had been uncontrolled taxpayers engaged in the same transaction under the same circumstances.  One of several possible transfer pricing methods for determining whether a transaction meets the arm’s length standard is the profit split method.  One specific application of the profit split method is the RPSM.  This IPU focuses on the application of the RPSM as it applies to outbound transactions involving intangible property.

The IPU outlines four steps for IRS examiners to follow in determining whether the RPSM is the best method to evaluate a controlled transaction and if so, how to apply the RPSM to that particular transaction.

  1. Identify the routine and nonroutine contributions made by the parties. The IPU cautions that if there are no nonroutine contributions, or if only one controlled taxpayer is making nonroutine contributions (most commonly of intangibles), then the RPSM should not be used.  The IPU provides three examples of when the RPSM may be used:  (a) a tangible goods sale if the seller uses nonroutine manufacturing intangibles to make the goods, and another controlled party purchases and resells the goods using its nonroutine marketing intangibles; (b) a licensing transaction where one controlled party licenses nonroutine manufacturing intangibles to a second controlled party, who then manufactures goods using those manufacturing intangibles and sells the goods using its own nonroutine marketing intangibles; and (c) a commercial sale of software product, if two controlled parties each contribute nonroutine software intangibles to manufacture the product, and the controlled parties share the revenue from the sales.
  1. Determine if the RPSM is the best method. The RPSM is the best method only if it provides the most reliable measure of an arm’s length result.  The IPU cautions that the RPSM should be used when both controlled parties in the controlled transaction have made significant nonroutine contributions (e.g., significant contributions for which it is not possible to identify a market return).
  1. Allocate income to the parties based on routine contributions using market rates of return achieved by uncontrolled taxpayers engaged in similar activities. Routine contributions ordinarily include contributions of tangible property, services and intangible property that are generally owned by uncontrolled taxpayers engaged in similar routine activities. The IPU cautions that when determining the market rates of return for routine contributions, generally another transfer pricing method listed in Treasury Regulations Sections 1.482-3, -4, -5 and -9 will be utilized.
  1. Allocate residual profit or loss to the parties based on nonroutine contributions. Nonroutine contributions normally consist of intangible assets and/or services provided using intangible assets.  The relative value of the nonroutine contributions may be measured by external benchmarks, internal data (e.g., capitalized costs of developing intangibles) or other internal data (e.g., actual recent expenditures). The IPU cautions that where the allocation of profits is based on costs rather than market benchmarks, the RPSM is generally unsuitable where only one party has incurred intangible development costs.

Finally, the IPU provides an application of the RPSM by using an example in the Treasury Regulations under Section 482.

As the US Treasury Regulations and the OECD Guidelines have arguably become more restrictive with respect to the application of transactional methods and the comparable profits method (i.e., the transactional net margin method under the OECD Guidelines) and have increasingly focused on reviewing both sides of transfer pricing arrangements, it appears almost certain that taxpayers and tax authorities will increasingly rely upon the RPSM.  As such, the profit split methods should be of increased interest to taxpayers in this new era of country-by-country transfer pricing documentation.  Taking these considerations into account, the recent IPU is therefore timely.

Recently, we published a Special Report in Tax Notes International, “Preparing for a Tsunami of International Tax Disputes.”  The article can be accessed here.  While there is near-universal agreement that the number of tax disputes is going to increase, existing international tax dispute resolution processes remain in serious need of improvement. A global consensus must be reached on a process for resolving worldwide tax disputes that appeals to all stakeholders. This article focuses on recent attempts by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), United Nations (UN) and international tax community to achieve such a consensus.

In short, the predictability of tax base results is a serious concern for countries and multi-national enterprises alike.  The only realistic solution is to design a dependable and independent treaty-based dispute resolution process that accommodates the needs of all stakeholders. A foundation for this process has been provided by the inclusion of arbitration in both the OECD and UN model income tax treaties and its successful implementation in a few countries. Arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) have already evolved successfully in nontax government and commercial contexts. As with any such evolution, there have been both positive and negative experiences for countries and private parties. In the realm of international taxation, the development of these processes is in the early stages. It is important for all stakeholders in the tax arena to explore ways of using experiences from non-tax contexts to develop processes that can relieve emerging pressures relating to international taxation. To distinguish the international tax context from others, the new dispute resolution process could be referred to as the International Taxation Dispute Resolution Process (ITDRP), as suggested in the UN Secretariat Paper on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Taxation released on October 8, 2015.

While the development of a successful ITDRP will inevitably take time and will no doubt be contentious, significant advancements have been made in the past few months that suggest it could soon be on the horizon.  These include the initial Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) paper on dispute resolution, the January 2015 Dispute Resolution Conference in Vienna, the OECD Action 14 Final Report (released in October 2015) and the UN Secretariat ADR Paper.

Almost all stakeholders in the international taxation community agree that: (i) the number of disputes will increase; (ii) existing dispute resolution processes are in serious need of improvement; and (iii) a global consensus must be achieved so that global tax disputes can be resolved in a way that serves the interests of all stakeholders. In this regard, it may be fortunate for the tax community that it is arriving late to the ADR processes that have evolved in other areas over the past century. As the OECD and UN processes continue to evolve, it is hoped that lessons from these other areas can be drawn upon to develop an ITDRP that serves the interests of all parties.