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How have the OECD and governments responded to tax challenges?
The digital economy has grown two and a half times faster than the global GDP over the last fifteen years, fundamentally changing how businesses operate in foreign markets. International tax codes have not kept pace with its rapid expansion until recently.
Many multinational corporations do not have a physical presence in the countries where they conduct business. Consequently, some companies have avoided paying taxes through base erosion and profit sharing (BEPS) strategies, which exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules. BEPS practices are harmful for countries, especially developing countries, that rely on corporate income tax.
The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has been working with governments, policy makers, and citizens across the globe on international tax standardization via the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.
The OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting seeks to address tax challenges that have arisen from the digitalization of the economy through its Pillar One and Pillar Two proposals.
Pillar One establishes new nexus and profit allocation rules for large multinational enterprises that meet certain revenue and profitability thresholds. In addition, the Pillar broadens countries’ ability to tax activity occurring within its borders regardless of a company’s physical presence or market jurisdiction.
Pillar Two establishes mechanisms to ensure large multinationals pay a 15% minimum level of tax regardless of where they are headquartered or the jurisdictions in which they operate.
Since 2013, the OECD has worked to implement these changes but has experienced difficulties. 137 member jurisdictions agreed to the Two-Pillar Solution as of November 4, 2021. However, not all Inclusive Framework members joined as of November 2022, which has pushed the Two-Pillar implementation date from 2023 to 2024.
What are digital service taxes, and what are countries doing about them?
Because the OECD has faced difficulties reaching a global consensus, numerous nations have implemented unilateral measures to protect their tax base and tax income derived from certain digital activities carried out within their jurisdiction. One such measure is digital services taxes (DSTs).
Directed toward large U.S. multinational companies, DSTs are a tax on gross revenue derived from a variety of digital services. They are a mix of gross receipts taxes and transaction taxes that apply on receipts from the sale of advertising space, provision of digital intermediary services such as the operation of online marketplaces, and the sale of data collected from users.
Countries can levy DSTs differently. Austria, for example, only applies a DST to digital advertising, whereas Poland only assesses a DST on streaming services. Multinational companies can face double taxation if one government imposes DSTs on a company’s revenue and then another government imposes DSTs on the same revenue.