Chapter 4 - OECD recommendations
4.1 The OECD’s recommended domestic rules under Action 2 aim to eliminate the tax benefit of using a hybrid mismatch arrangement.
4.2 The most effective way to do this would be to harmonise the tax rules of the countries concerned. If, for example, all countries had the same rules for distinguishing debt from equity, the opportunity to arbitrage the debt/equity distinction would no longer arise. However, as harmonisation does not seem possible even for the most commonly exploited differences in tax treatment of instruments and entities, this approach is only theoretical.
4.3 Instead, the OECD has recommended domestic rules that consist of:
- specific improvements to domestic rules designed to achieve a better alignment between those rules and their intended tax policy outcomes (specific recommendations); and
- rules that neutralise the tax outcomes of a hybrid mismatch by linking the tax outcomes of a payment made by an entity or under an instrument to the tax outcomes in the counterparty country (hybrid mismatch rules).
4.4 There is an expectation that the OECD’s recommended rules be used as a template for reform. By doing so, a consistent approach to addressing hybrid mismatches will be applied across countries. Consistent rules that are consistently applied across countries will best ensure that the rules are effective at eliminating double non-taxation, while minimising the risk of double taxation and compliance and administrative costs for both taxpayers and administrators. However, the proposed hybrid mismatch rules are designed so that the effects of a hybrid mismatch will be neutralised, even if the counterparty country has not adopted such rules.
4.5 This document proposes that New Zealand introduces domestic rules that are largely in line with the OECD recommendations, with only minor adjustments of those recommendations to ensure that they make sense in terms of New Zealand’s other domestic rules and international tax framework. Final policy decisions will only be made on the outcome of consultation with the businesses that will have to apply any new rules.
4.6 The OECD recommendations include a series of “linking rules” which adjust the tax treatment of a hybrid mismatch arrangement in one country by reference to the tax treatment in the counterparty country, without disturbing any of the other tax, commercial or regulatory consequences.
4.7 The target of the rules is D/NI, DD and indirect D/NI mismatches that arise from payments. The OECD considers that rules that, for example, entitle a taxpayer to “deemed” interest deductions for equity capital, are economically more akin to a tax exemption, so do not produce a mismatch in the sense targeted. The recommended rules are not generally intended to pick up mismatches that result from differences in the value ascribed to a payment. For example, a mismatch in tax outcomes as a result of foreign currency fluctuations on a loan, or differences due solely to timing. They do apply to deductions which, although attributable to payments, are not for the payments themselves, such as interest calculated under the financial arrangement rules.
4.8 While cross-border mismatches arise in other contexts (for example, the payment of deductible interest to a tax-exempt entity, or the sale of an asset from a capital account holder to a trader), the mismatches targeted are only those that rely on a hybrid element to produce the outcome.
4.9 The OECD recommended rules are organised into a hierarchy, which takes the form of a primary rule and a secondary, defensive, rule. This hierarchy approach means that double taxation is avoided because the defensive rule only applies when there is no hybrid mismatch rule or the rule is not applied in the counterparty country. It also means that the effects of a hybrid mismatch are neutralised by the operation of the defensive rule even if the counterparty country does not have effective hybrid mismatch rules.
4.10 If New Zealand follows the approach adopted in the UK legislation, it is likely that these linking rules would form a separate subpart in the Income Tax Act.
Recommendation 1: Hybrid financial instrument rule
4.11 The hybrid financial instrument rule applies to payments under a financial instrument that can be expected to result in a hybrid mismatch (that is, a D/NI result). A financial instrument can be either a financial arrangement or an equity instrument. The primary rule is for the payer country to neutralise the mismatch by denying the deduction. If it does not, the payee country should tax the payment. Countries only need to apply this rule to payments under financial instruments as characterised under their own domestic law. So, for example, a cross-border lease payment by a resident under an operating lease is not subject to this rule, even if the lessor country treats the lease as a finance lease.
4.12 The rule also applies to substitute payments, which are payments under a transfer of a financial instrument which in effect undermine the integrity of the rules. This will be the case if the transfer and substitute payment secure a better tax outcome than if the transfer had not taken place.
4.13 The reason for dealing with the deduction first is that it will generally be apparent that a deduction for a payment is being claimed in a country, and then it is possible to determine whether that payment is included in income in the payee country. However, it may not be as straightforward to identify the non-inclusion of a payment in income.
4.14 This rule only applies to payments between related parties (broadly, 25 percent or more common ownership) or under structured arrangements. A structured arrangement is defined in Recommendation 10. In broad terms it is an arrangement that is designed to produce a hybrid mismatch. These limitations are designed so that the rules apply in situations when the parties are able to obtain information about, or should be aware of, the tax treatment of the payment to the counterparty.
Recommendation 2: Specific recommendation for the tax treatment of financial instruments
4.15 The OECD’s recommendations for specific improvements to domestic rules for taxing financial instruments are rules that:
- deny a dividend exemption (or equivalent relief from economic double taxation) for deductible payments made under financial instruments;
- prevent hybrid transfers being used to duplicate foreign tax credits for taxes withheld at source, by limiting the amount of a credit to the amount of tax on the net income. A hybrid transfer is a transfer of a financial instrument where differences in two country’s tax rules mean each treats the financial instrument as held by a resident.
4.16 This recommendation has no limitation of scope (for example, it is not limited to related parties or structured arrangements).
Recommendation 3: Disregarded hybrid payments rule
4.17 The third recommendation is to neutralise mismatches arising from payments (whether or not in relation to a financial instrument) by hybrid payers.
- The payer country should deny a deduction for a payment that gives rise to a D/NI outcome.
- If it does not do so, the amount should be included in income in the payee country.
- No mismatch will arise to the extent that the deduction in the payer country is offset against income that is included in taxable income in both the payee and payer country (dual inclusion income).
- Disallowed deductions can be carried forward and offset against dual inclusion income in future years.
4.18 So, for example, if a hybrid entity makes a deductible payment to its foreign parent, and that payment is disregarded in the parent country because it treats the hybrid entity as a part of the parent, then prima facie the country where the hybrid is resident should deny a deduction for the payment. If it does not, the parent country should tax the payment. Neither response is required if the hybrid entity in the same year derives an equal amount of income which is taxed in both countries (that is, is dual inclusion income).
4.19 This rule applies only to payments between members of the same control group, or parties to a structured arrangement. Entities are in the same control group if they are consolidated for accounting purposes, if they are commonly controlled, if they are 50 percent or more commonly owned, or if they are associated under Article 9 of the OECD Model Treaty.
Recommendation 4: Reverse hybrid rule
4.20 Recommendation 4 applies to any deductible payment made to a reverse hybrid which results in a hybrid mismatch. A hybrid mismatch arises if the payment is not taxable to the reverse hybrid in either its establishment country or the residence country of an owner, but would have been taxable if paid directly to the owner. Prima facie an interest payment made to a New Zealand zero-rate PIE in respect of the interest of a foreign investor in the PIE might well be subject to this rule (though it would be out of scope unless there were a structured arrangement). The rule is for the payer to be denied a deduction.
4.21 The rule applies where the payer, the reverse hybrid and its owner are in the same control group, and to a payment under a structured arrangement to which the payer is a party.
Recommendation 5: Specific recommendation for reverse hybrids
4.22 Recommendation 5 contains 3 specific recommendations for domestic rules relating to reverse hybrids. These are to:
- improve controlled foreign company (CFC) and other offshore investment rules to ensure the taxation of the income of hybrid entities in the investor country
- restrict the tax transparency of reverse hybrids that are members of a control group,; and
- encourage countries to adopt appropriate information reporting and filing requirements for transparent entities established in their country (for example, in the case of New Zealand, partnerships, trusts and PIEs).
Recommendation 6: Deductible hybrid payments rule
4.23 Recommendation 6 applies to payments by a hybrid payer who makes a payment that is deductible under the laws of both the payer country and the country of the owner, if the payment results in a hybrid mismatch. The owner country should deny the deduction, and if it does not, the payer country should do so. A payment will only give rise to a hybrid mismatch if it is deducted against income which is not dual inclusion income. Disallowed expenditure can be carried forward and offset against dual inclusion income in future periods.
4.24 A person will be a hybrid payer if they are entitled to a deduction for a payment in a country where they are not resident, and either they or a related person is also allowed a deduction for that payment in the residence country. They will also be a hybrid payer if they are entitled to a deduction for a payment in their residence country and the payment triggers a second deduction for an investor in the payer in another country.
4.25 There is no scope limitation on the primary rule. Disallowance in the payer country (the secondary rule) only applies if the parties are in the same control group or when the person is party to a structured arrangement.
4.26 In addition, the Final Report suggests countries may wish to apply this rule to deductions that are not directly attributable to payments, for example, depreciation.
Recommendation 7: Dual-resident payer rule
4.27 Recommendation 7 applies to payments by a dual resident payer. If the payment is deductible in both countries, both should deny a deduction to the extent that it is offset against income which is not taxable in both countries.
4.28 As with Recommendation 6, Recommendation 7 includes an ability to carry forward any unused deductions and set them off against future dual inclusion income. Losses can also be used in one country if they have become unusable in the other (stranded losses). There is no limitation on the scope of this rule.
Recommendation 8: Imported mismatch rule
4.29 To expand the coverage of the rules, Recommendation 8 requires a payer country to deny a deduction for an imported mismatch payment to the extent the rules treat the payment as offset against a hybrid deduction in the payee country. This means that the rules can require disallowance even when the payee is returning the amount received as income, if there is the necessary degree of connection between the payee’s receipt of the payment, and the payee making a payment under a hybrid mismatch arrangement.
4.30 This rule is proposed to apply only if the payer is in the same control group as the parties to the mismatch arrangement, or when the payer is party to a structured arrangement.
Recommendation 9: Design principles
4.31 Recommendation 9 sets out the design principles for the OECD rules, and also their implementation and co-ordination at a domestic level. These are considered in more detail in Chapter 11.
Recommendations 10 – 12: Definitions
4.32 Recommendations 10–12 deal with definitions, including in particular, the definition of a structured arrangement, related persons, control groups and acting together.
4.33 Chapters 13 and 14 of the Final Report intend to ensure that, through modifications to the OECD Model Tax Convention and its Commentary, the benefits of double tax agreements (DTAs) are not inappropriately accessed through the use of hybrid instruments and entities:
- Chapter 13 provides commentary on a proposed change to Article 4(3) of the OECD Model Tax Convention whereby issues of an entity’s dual residence can be resolved by the competent authorities of each DTA partner rather than through the application of an interpretative rule as to the place of effective management. The chapter also suggests a domestic law change deeming an entity not to be a resident of a state if that entity is considered to be resident of another state due to the operation of a DTA.
- Chapter 14 provides commentary on the proposed introduction of Article 1(2) to the OECD Model Tax Convention which deals with the treatment of (wholly or partly) fiscally transparent entities.
4.34 Where possible, the suggested changes will be incorporated into New Zealand’s DTA network through the OECD’s work on Action 15 of the BEPS Action Plan (Developing a Multilateral Instrument to Modify Bilateral Tax Treaties), and through bilateral DTA negotiations.
4.35 Chapter 15 of the Final Report provides commentary on any potential conflict in the interaction of tax treaties and the OECD’s domestic law recommendations. The Government does not foresee any potential conflict between the recommendations and New Zealand’s DTA network. However, readers are welcome to submit on that point.
4.36 The DTA commentary will not be considered in Part II of this document as there is no domestic law reform that could be taken in this area (although the dual resident entity domestic law suggestion noted above is discussed in more detail in Chapter 9).
4.37 Specific calls for submission are set out in Part II of the document. However, the Government is also open to submissions on any aspects of Part I of the document. Submissions should include a brief summary of major points and recommendations and should refer to the document’s labelled submission points where applicable.