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Action Item 1: The O.E.C.D.'s Approach to the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy

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The O.E.C.D.’s Action Plan adopted in Saint Petersburg in 2013 aims at tracking where economic activities generating taxable profits are performed and where value is created. It aims at ensuring that taxation follows the economic activities and the creation of value and not the other way around. Action Item 1 of the Action Plan (the “Action 1 Deliverable”) focuses on the tax challenges of the digital economy. Along with the 2014 Deliverable on Action 15 (Developing a Multilateral Instrument to Modify Bilateral Tax Treaties), the Action 1 Deliverable is a final report.

The Action 1 Deliverable published on September 16, 2014 mainly reiterates the March 2014 Public Discussion Draft on Action 1 (click here to access our article on the 2014 Public Discussion Draft). It restates that, while B.E.P.S. is exacerbated in the digital economy space, the digital economy cannot be ring-fenced from other sectors of the economy for B.E.P.S. purposes because the digital economy is an ever growing portion of the entire economy. The Action 1 Deliverable thus refers to other Actions to address common B.E.P.S. issues that are not specific to the digital economy. Action Item 1 also refers to the O.E.C.D.’s International V.A.T./G.S.T. Guidelines with regard to V.A.T. issues raised by the digital economy. Although the Action 1 Deliverable adds relatively little to the previously published Public Discussion Draft on Action Item 1, the benefit of a set of uniformly accepted rules should not be understated. With European countries struggling to raise tax revenue in order to close budget gaps, the risk of adverse unilateral action by one or more countries is real. During a symposium held in Rome at the beginning of the month, certain European countries, and especially Italy, pushed for unilateral action with regard to the taxation of the digital economy. If that action proceeds to enactment, digital tax chaos could be encountered.