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Improving Dispute Resolution: The World of B.E.P.S.

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The Discussion Draft on Action plan 14 (the “Draft”) received an overwhelming response. On January 19, 2015, the O.E.C.D. published over 400 pages of comments on how to make dispute resolution mechanisms more effective.

Many believe that as a result of the B.E.P.S. program, the number of treaty-related tax disputes will increase. To accommodate this surge in tax cases, it is crucial to develop an effective dispute resolution mechanism that will enhance cross-border trade.

The Draft reflects a lack of consensus regarding the Mutual Agreement Procedure (“M.A.P.”). Most of the comments support creating a M.A.P. that facilitates final and binding decisions within a set timeframe. It is seen as a step towards improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the B.E.P.S. project as a whole. Creating an efficient M.A.P. will demonstrate the O.E.C.D.’s commitment to creating a mechanism that will provide progress.

Making the M.A.P. mandatory may not be enough, as other issues come into play. Here is a sampling of comments that appear in the 400 pages that were released:

  • The fact that the initiative in solving the dispute remains with the Contracting States leaves the taxpayer with a limited role. As a result, the opportunity of having a smoothly functioning M.A.P. with taxpayer input bows to need protecting a States’ right to tax.
  • The Draft pointed out that a taxpayer should not have an active role in the M.A.P. This is rooted in the belief that the involvement of the taxpayer will result in a lengthier process, which is more costly to the Contracting States. This observation may not be correct in all cases; the involvement of a taxpayer may motivate the Competent Authorities to promptly reach a good-faith agreement at an accelerated pace.
  • Competent Authorities initiate M.A.P. with a belief in the validity of their position. Believing in the justification of their position will make it hard for a Competent Authority to concede. As a result, the Competent Authorities may have difficulty in preserving an atmosphere necessary to reach a solution through reconciliation.