BEPS Action 1: Addressing the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy

OECD, Base Erosion & Profit Shifting, Multinationals

Political leaders, media outlets, and civil society around the world have expressed growing concern about tax planning by multinational enterprises (MNEs) that makes use of gaps in the interaction of different tax systems to artificially reduce taxable income or shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions in which little or no economic activity is performed. In response to this concern, and at the request of the G20, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published an Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS Action Plan, OECD, 2013) in July 2013.

Please find attached short summaries with regard to the different BEPS action points together with our observations and the respective developments in Switzerland.

Our first issue is related to Action 1 of the BEPS Action Plan which calls for work to address the tax challenges of the digital economy. The digital economy is the result of a transformative process brought by information and communication technology (ICT), which has made technologies cheaper, more powerful, and widely standardised, improving business processes and bolstering innovation across all sectors of the economy.

Because the digital economy is increasingly becoming the economy itself, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to ring-fence the digital economy from the rest of the economy for tax purposes. The digital economy and its business models present however some key features which are potentially relevant from a tax perspective. These features include mobility, reliance on data, network effects, the spread of multi-sided business models, a tendency toward monopoly or oligopoly and volatility. The types of business models include several varieties of e-commerce, app stores, online advertising, cloud computing, participative networked platforms, high speed trading, and online payment services. The digital economy has also accelerated and changed the spread of global value chains in which MNEs integrate their worldwide operations.

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* Thomas Linder

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