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UAE companies to benefit from transfer pricing as profit-shifting plan comes into force
September, 05th 2016

The international tax landscape has been changing rapidly and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has agreed on a base erosion and profit shifting (Beps) action plan that could affect businesses operating in the UAE.

The plan addresses the issue of artificial shifting of profits and its proposals will introduce unprecedented disclosure and substance requirements affecting industries and businesses with substantial international exposure. Closely linked to Beps is the issue of transfer pricing.

So what is transfer pricing and how does it affect organisations in the UAE?

In simple terms, transfer pricing is the rate at which two related parties of the same group carry out transactions with each other. If a subsidiary of a Middle East group sells goods or services to another group subsidiary in Europe at an agreed price, this arrangement will be subject to transfer-pricing rules.

Transfer pricing is important because it gives a group with large international operations the opportunity to manage profits across jurisdictions. Transfer pricing is legal but can be abused if companies manipulate the price charged between related parties to artificially save taxes.

According to the OECD, revenue losses from Beps are estimated at between US$100 billion and $240bn annually, or 4 per cent to 10 per cent of global corporate income tax revenues. The interest in the recent public accounts committee and senate hearings in the UK and US respectively demonstrate how important the issue has become.

The Beps proposals are focused on mitigating tax strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to shift profits to low-tax or no-tax locations, even though a company may have little or no economic activity there.

The rules affect any group with international transactions or operations and, therefore, affect GCC-headquartered businesses regardless of whether they are subject to corporate tax in their home jurisdiction.

An increasing number of tax authorities globally have already implemented the Beps proposals, and remain committed to international cooperation to address offshore tax evasion and work towards a fairer and more transparent international tax system.

This will be a transitional period for the Middle East because the new proposals mean that a number of GCC groups will be subject to Beps and an unprecedented level of disclosure and scrutiny.

Complying with these new rules should be seen as an opportunity for global companies headquartered in the UAE and the region to streamline their supply chains and to mitigate their tax risks.

There is increasing demand for tax services from multinationals that are navigating these incredible complexities. These could include multinationals with dispersed workforces that have centralised finance functions and now realise they cannot keep up with compliance requirements everywhere they do business.

Multinationals also need to do it in a way that contributes value to their business and does not increase risk. We at KPMG expect that there will be a need to help organisations develop and implement economically supportable transfer prices, document policies and outcomes and respond to tax authority challenges.

Some of the key areas we expect companies will require assistance in are: identifying potential Beps risks and opportunities; defining and implementing appropriate measures to address the potential risks arising from regulatory changes; and complying with new tax and transfer pricing obligations.

Transfer pricing and Beps regulations could drive up costs. However, for GCC groups, applying transfer pricing correctly could also cut tax burdens, increase returns to shareholders and reduce prices for consumers by simplifying cross-charging. For instance, head office costs from a jurisdiction like the UAE could be transferred to tax-paying jurisdictions as long as it is properly adopted and documented in a post-Beps world.

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