Saturday, October 20, 2018
Rebecca Kysar (Fordham) presented Unravelling the Tax Treaty at Northwestern on Thursday as part of its Advanced Topics in Taxation Workshop Series hosted by Sarah Lawsky:
Coordination among nations over the taxation of international transactions rests on a network of some 2,000 bilateral double tax treaties. The double tax treaty is, in many ways, the roots of the international system of taxation. That system, however, is in upheaval in the face of globalization, technological advances, taxpayer abuse, and shifting political tides. In the academic literature, however, scrutiny of tax treaties is largely confined to the albeit important question of whether tax treaties are beneficial for developing countries. Surprisingly little consideration has been paid to whether developed countries, like the United States, should continue to sign tax treaties with one another, and no formal revenue or economic analyses of the treaties has been undertaken by the United States government. In fact, little evidence or theory exists to support entrance into tax treaties by the United States, and examination of investment flows indicates the treaties likely lose significant U.S. revenues. Additionally, they enable taxpayer abuse, stagnate domestic policy, and thwart reforms of the antiquated international tax system. These consequences are particularly problematic for the United States. Other nations, after all, have been able to supplement their revenues and pursue destination-based taxation through treaty-friendly VATs.
Although tax treaties may have, at one time, served salutary purposes, modern circumstances call into question the relinquishment of taxing jurisdiction by source countries. I suggest that nations unravel the jurisdictional provisions from the treaties, abandoning or scaling them down through the new multilateral instrument. Rather than assessing antiquated notions of worldwide efficiency, the challenge for the international tax system going forward will be to attempt some degree of coordination while also imparting flexibility to advance national interests in setting revenue policy. This solution aims to thread that needle.