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Foreign Correspondence: Notes from Abroad

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By Michael Peggs

When people think of massive transfer pricing cases, the driver typically is the diversion of profits to a low-tax jurisdiction. But transfer pricing issues are now filtering down to the level of retail shoppers facing retail price disparity in adjacent jurisdictions. A typical case is the premium that Canadian purchasers generally pay over prices charged in the U.S. for comparable products.

Before the internet, it was customary for Canadians to receive flyers in the mail from U.S. grocery and department stores. The flyers offered bargains for the holidays. The internet now allows instant price comparisons and greater choice for Canadian consumers. Disregarding sub rosa impediments to competition that permeate many areas of the Canadian economy – think of cultural preferences – Canadians have complained loudly that retail prices are unfairly high when compared with exchange-adjusted U.S. prices. A typical example is print media where the premium for pricing the Canadian edition was not reduced over the period in which the Canadian dollar reached parity with its U.S. counterpart.

The Canadian government is now preparing to give the Competition Bureau new powers to persuade U.S. multinationals with Canadian retail operations to lower prices or to achieve retail price parity, as will be determined. One hopes that Industry Canada will intervene with the Canada Revenue Agency (“C.R.A.”) before drafting legislation, as an unintended consequence may be a new round of Canadian transfer pricing controversy.