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Can the Arm’s Length Standard Beat the R.A.P.? Transfer Pricing After the T.C.J.A.

Can the Arm’s Length Standard Beat the R.A.P.? Transfer Pricing After the T.C.J.A.

Experienced tax litigators know that Congress often protects the I.R.S. when an important case is lost.  Yes, the taxpayer wins.  But Congress codifies the I.R.S. position by an amendment to the law.  The T.C.J.A. revised Code §482 legislatively, thereby reversing Tax Court decisions in the Amazon and Veritas cases that dismissed two arguments raised by the I.R.S. in transfer pricing litigation – mandatory use of aggregate basis of valuation (grouping of intangibles for valuation purposes) and the realistic alternative principle (challenging the business judgment for the transaction).  Michael Peggs and Sheryl Shah explain this attack on the arm’s length principle of taxation.

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European Commission Rocking the Boat at Arm's Length

European Commission Rocking the Boat at Arm's Length

This month, transfer pricing economists Theo Elshof, Olaf Smits, and Mark van Mil of Quantera Global, Amsterdam, explore the European Commission’s definition of the term “arm’s length” in recent State Aid cases.  Tax advisers with experience in transfer pricing matters will be surprised to find that reliance on practices of global competitors in the same or similar industry is not relevant when the matter relates to tax rulings comprising State Aid.

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International Practice Unit: License of Intangible Property from U.S. Parent to a Foreign Subsidiary

Christine Long explains how I.R.S. examiners are encouraged to determine whether foreign subsidiaries are paying fair compensation for using I.P. owned by U.S. parent companies.

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Taxpayers Take Note: I.R.S. Publishes Audit Guides for International Examiners

U.S.-based companies facing an I.R.S. examination of international operations may secretly wish to obtain an advance look at how I.R.S. examiners plan to carry out the examination. After all, what better way to prepare for a test than to get the questions in advance? Surprise – the Large Business & International (LB&I) Division of the I.R.S. has published its training guides for examiners.

LB&I is responsible for examining tax returns reporting international transactions, and it is in the process of revising the method by which returns are chosen for examination and the the process by which those examinations are conducted. Several aspects of the guidance will be addressed through out this edition of Insights. Stanley C. Ruchelman explains.

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Artificial Loan Restructurings

The I.R.S. has discovered that related taxpayers have been renegotiating existing intercompany loans to allow operating companies within the group to pay a higher rate of interest to a related party benefitting from favorable tax attributes without violating Code §482 principles. Andrew P. Mitchel and Sheryl Shah explain how the I.R.S. is taking aim at this new approach to self-help.

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Tax Court Strikes Down I.R.S. Position on Stock-Based Compensation in Altera Case

Is the Altera case important because it struck down the I.R.S.’s stock-based compensation regulations related to cost sharing agreements? Or is it important because of the procedural analysis, which enabled the Tax Court to be in position to strike down a regulation? Beate Erwin, Stanley C. Ruchelman, and Michael Peggs explain why the case is important for both reasons. 

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Transfer Pricing Litigation from A to Z

A number of transfer pricing cases, many with potentially significant precedent value and tax provision consequences, are either at trial or proceeding to trial. Michael Peggs and Cheryl Magat comment on two of the major cases on the Tax Court Docket, Altera and Zimmer. Those who think arm’s length means “do what others do” will be surprised.

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B.E.P.S. Actions 8, 9 & 10: Assuring that Transfer Pricing Outcomes are in Line with Value Creation

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On December 19, 2014, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (“O.E.C.D.”) released a discussion draft on Actions 8, 9, and 10 of the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (“B.E.P.S.”) Action Plan (“Discussion Draft” or “Draft”). Actions 8, 9, and 10 reinforce the goal of assuring that transfer pricing outcomes are in line with value creation.

In July 2013, the O.E.C.D. published the B.E.P.S. Action Plan for the purpose of establishing a comprehensive agenda to resolve B.E.P.S. issues. The B.E.P.S. Action Plan identifies 15 actions to combat B.E.P.S. and establishes deadlines for application of each action.

The Discussion Draft introduces revisions to Chapter I of the Transfer Pricing Guidelines and addresses the related topics in Actions 8, 9, and 10. Specifically, the Discussion Draft focuses on the development of the following:

(i) rules to prevent B.E.P.S. by transferring risks among, or allocating excessive capital to, group members. This will involve adopting transfer pricing rules or special measures to ensure that inappropriate returns will not accrue to an entity solely because it has contractually assumed risks or has provided capital. The rules to be developed will also require alignment of returns with value creation.

(ii) rules to prevent B.E.P.S. by engaging in transactions which would not, or would only very rarely, occur between third parties. This will involve adopting transfer pricing rules or special measures to: (i) clarify the circumstances in which transactions can be recharacterized.

(iii) transfer pricing rules or special measures for transfers of hard-to-value intangibles.

Tax 101: Tax Planning and Compliance for Foreign Businesses with U.S. Activity

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The U.S. tax laws affecting foreign businesses with activity in the U.S. contain some of the more complex provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Examples include:

  • Effectively connected income,
  • Allocation of expenses to that income,
  • Income tax treaties,
  • Arm’s length transfer pricing rules,
  • Permanent establishments under income tax treaties,
  • Limitation on benefits provisions in income tax treaties that are designed to prevent “treaty shopping,”
  • State tax apportionment,
  • F.I.R.P.T.A. withholding tax for transactions categorized as real property transfers,
  • Fixed and determinable annual and periodical income, and
  • Interest on items of portfolio debt.

One can imagine that it is no easy task to identify income that is subject to tax, to identify the tax regime applicable to the income, and to quantify gross income, net income, and income subject to withholding tax. Nonetheless, the I.R.S. has identified withholding tax obligations of U.S. payers as a Tier I audit issue.

U.S.-Based Pushback on B.E.P.S.

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In addition to the aggressive actions by some foreign countries to levy more taxes on U.S. taxpayers before a consensus has been reached, the process established by the O.E.C.D. raises serious questions about the ability of the United States to fully participate in the negotiations.

Ultimately, we believe that the best way for the United States to address the potential problem of B.E.P.S. is to enact comprehensive tax reforms that lower the corporate rate to a more internationally competitive level and modernize the badly outdated and uncompetitive U.S. international tax structure.

So say Representative Dave Camp (R) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R), two leading Republican voices in Congress, on the O.E.C.D.’s B.E.P.S. project.

Does this somewhat direct expression of skepticism represent nothing more than U.S. political party politicking or a unified U.S. government position that in fact might be one supported by U.S. multinational corporations? The thought of the two political parties, the Administration and U.S. industry agreeing on a major political/economic issue presents an interesting, if unlikely, scenario. This article will explore that scenario.


Base erosion and profit shifting (“B.E.P.S.”) refers to tax planning strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules in order to make profits “disappear” for tax purposes or to shift profits to locations where there is little or no real activity and the taxes are low. This results in little or no overall corporate tax being paid.