The taxation of multinational banks : alternative apportionment through a unitary taxation regime aligning with economic reality

Sadiq, Kerrie (2007) The taxation of multinational banks : alternative apportionment through a unitary taxation regime aligning with economic reality. New Zealand Journal of Taxation Law and Policy, 13(4), pp. 640-667.

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The taxation of multinational banks currently is governed by the general principles of international tax. However, it is arguable that there are characteristics exclusive to multinational banks that may warrant the consideration of a separate taxing regime. This article argues that because of the unique nature of multinational banks, the traditional international tax rules governing jurisdiction to tax and allocation of income do not produce a result which is optimal, as it does not reflect economic reality. That is, the current system does not produce a result that accurately reflects the economic source of the income or the location of the economic activity. The suggested alternative is unitary taxation using global formulary apportionment. Formulary apportionment is considered as an alternative that reflects economic reality by recognising the unique nature of multinational banks and allocating the income to the location of the economic activity.

The unique nature of multinational banking is recognised in the fact that formulary apportionment does not attempt to undertake a transactional division of a highly integrated multinational entity. Rather, it allocates income to the jurisdictions based on an economically justifiable formula. Starting from this recognition, the purpose of this article is to demonstrate that formulary apportionment is a theoretically superior (or optimal) model for the taxation of multinational banks.

An optimal regime, for the purposes of this article, is considered to be one that distributes the taxing rights in an equitable manner between the relevant jurisdictions, while, simultaneously allowing decisions of the international banks to be tax neutral. In this sense, neutrality is viewed as an economic concept and equity is regarded as a legal concept. A neutral tax system is one in which tax rules do not affect economic choices about commercial activities. Neutrality will ideally be across jurisdictions as well as across traditional and non-traditional industries. The primary focus of this article is jurisdictional neutrality.

A system that distributes taxing rights in an equitable manner between the relevant jurisdictions ensures that each country receives its fair share of tax revenue. Given the increase in multinational banking, jurisdictions should be concerned that they are receiving their fair share. Inter-nation equity is concerned with re-determining the proper division of the tax base among countries. Richard and Peggy Musgrave argue that sharing of the tax base by countries of source should be seen as a matter of inter-nation equity requiring international cooperation. The rights of the jurisdiction of residency will also be at issue. To this extent, while it is agreed that inter-nation equity is an essential attribute to an international tax regime, there is no universal agreement as to how to achieve it. The current system attempts to achieve such equity through a combined residency and source regime, with the transfer pricing rules used to apportion income between the relevant jurisdictions. However, this article suggests, that as an alternative to the current regime, equity would be achieved through formulary apportionment.

Opposition to formulary apportionment is generally based on the argument that it is not a theoretically superior (or optimal) model because of the implementation difficulties. Yet these are two separate issues. As such, this article is divided into two core parts. The first part examines the theoretical soundness of the formulary apportionment model concluding that it is theoretically superior to the arm’s length pricing requirement of the traditional transfer pricing regime. The second part examines the practical implications of accepting formulary apportionment as an optimal model with a view to disclosing the issues that arise when a formulary apportionment regime is adopted.

Prior to an analysis of the theoretical and practical application of formulary apportionment to multinational banks, the unique nature of these banks is considered. The article concludes that, while there are significant implementation, compliance, and enforcement issues to overcome, the unitary taxation model may be theoretically superior to the current arm’s length model which applies to multinational banks. This conclusion is based on the unitary taxation model providing greater alignment with the unique features of these banks.

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ID Code: 49739
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: taxation of multinational banks, formulary apportionment, international tax
ISSN: 1322-4417
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > ACCOUNTING AUDITING AND ACCOUNTABILITY (150100)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Accountancy
Deposited On: 18 Apr 2012 23:23
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2012 23:42

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