Taxing development and difficulties in digital economy

Information

Date: April 21 (Wed.) 2021, 14:00-16:00

Location: IEAT International Conference Center Meeting Room 1 (No. 350, Songjiang Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City)

Moderator

Li-hsuan Liang, Deputy CEO, NIIEPA

Speakers

  • Andrew C. Hsu, Deloitte Taiwan
  • Dr. Shih Chou Huang, Associate Professor, National Taipei University of Business

Session details

In this digital age, the internet community not only share opinions but also participate in global discussions about various topics. To fulfill its public responsibility, the Taiwan Network Information Center (TWNIC) established the Taiwan School on Internet Governance (TWSIG) in 2020. The idea is to develop a platform for the Taiwanese Internet community, where people can exchange thoughts and insights on critical issues regarding Internet technologies, economic, social and security, both globally and locally. The goal is to make TWSIG the go-to platform where open, inclusive, and diverse discussions take place.

In partnership with NIIEPA, TWNIC will be holding a series of events throughout the year to facilitate public dialogues on a range of topics. We will be looking at important global Internet Governance issues, and we will try to examine the significance and impact of those issues on Taiwanese society. We also hope that, by encouraging open and inclusive discussions, we will make the multistakeholder model a norm for public deliberation.

The global digital economy is growing steadily; transnational e-commerce has also become an integral part of modern day-to-day life. During the session, the speakers will elaborate on the current development of digital tax and provide an analysis of the potential impact Taiwan is facing.

The first speaker was Andrew Hsu, an accountant at Deloitte Taiwan. Titled ‘Modifying the Tax Regulations in the Digital Age’, his speech was divided to two parts: the taxing challenge of the digital economy and an overview of digital tax in countries and regions across the globe.

Hsu began by explaining the changes the digital economy brings to the global market. These changes can be summarized into four characteristics:

  1. The blurring of national borders due to the prevalence of transnational transactions.
  2. The advantage business used to enjoy thanks to the information asymmetry between consumers and vendors is quickly vanishing. The development and global reach of the Internet is the major reason of this change.
  3. Businesses are increasingly transpassing the existing categories. Corporations operating in several different business areas are becoming more and more common.
  4. As above, companies are increasingly operating multiple businesses. Especially the big tech companies who are offering various services and tools to their users are now enjoying an advantage almost equivalent to monopoly or oligopoly.

However, Hsu explained that the essence of business had not changed much. Companies want to maximize the profit and minimize the expanse.

After giving the audience an idea of the current market outlook in the digital economy, Hsu talked about digital tax. France introduced its digital tax regulations in late 2019, requiring big tech companies to pay a 3% digital service tax (DST) to the French government. The move enraged Trump and the latter threatened to slap tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other imports in retaliation. The DST has been suspended while negotiations on a broader overhaul of the global tax system played out at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and so did Trump’s retaliation.

This was an example of how one country trying to impose taxing requirements on companies from other countries can soon turn into a trade war situation between two nation-states. It also illustrated the difficulties of digital tax regulations as the parties who will be paying the tax are never limited within the national borders, meaning that they can bring their complaints to their own governments and lobby the latter to do something at the state level. Moreover, since the big tech almost always have to pay the most tax if the DST ever come into place, the United States has not been happy with this development, claiming this kind of DST arrangement is in fact unfairly targeting the country.

The idiosyncracies shared by the digital economy and digital tax are:

  • Mobility. Businesses do not need a physical location to operate and they are able to sell to customers regardless of national borders. As a result, companies are able to arrange and assign different locations in charge of different business functions, which further expands the companies’ scale.
  • Reliance on data. Businesses collect data on not only their existing customers but also potential ones. Using the algorithm to analyze the data they collected, companies are able to better target existing and potential customers by figuring out their preferences and purchasing patterns.
  • The tendency of monopoly or oligopoly.
  • Volatility.

The digital economy will continue to accelerate the change of how global enterprises arrange and integrate their cross-national business and operation. In other words, the evolution of how people and businesses trade will not stop and neither does the governments’ search for solutions of collecting digital tax.

Hsu also shared the insights and suggestions from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regarding the tax challenges of the digital economy. According to OECD, ‘base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) refers to tax planning strategies used by multinational enterprises that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to avoid paying tax.’ In general, developing countries’ reliance on corporate income tax is higher. This means they suffer from BEPS disproportionately. This is why Working the OECD published the BEPS Action Plan. This plan—developed within the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS and by collaboration between over 135 countries and jurisdictions—includes 15 measures for countries to implement to tackle tax avoidance, improve the coherence of international tax rules and ensure a more transparent tax environment.

The first chapter (Action 1) of OECD’s BEPS Action plan explains the tax challenges arising from digitalization. According to this chapter, the global digital transformation has sparked global debates in many legal and regulatory realms and most importantly, the international tax issue.

One of the major issues is whether international income tax rules, developed in a “brick-and-mortar” economic environment more than a century ago, remain fit for purpose in the modern global economy. The fundamental elements of the global tax system determined where taxes should be paid (“nexus” rules based on physical presence) and what portion of profits should be taxed (“profit allocation” rules based on the arm’s length principle) have served their purpose well.

Today, however, the existing global tax system is facing serious challenges. This is due to three significant phenomena facilitated by digitalization: scale without mass, reliance on intangible assets, and the centrality of data. On the one hand, the emerging new and usually intangible value drivers have revolutionized entire sectors and created new business models. As a result, most business does not have to maintain physical proximity to their target markets. This continuously challenges the effectiveness of existing profit allocation and nexus rules to distribute taxing rights on income generated from cross-border activities in a way that is acceptable to all countries. The so-called allocation of taxing right issue arises as a consequence.

On the other hand, multinational enterprises (MNEs) offering innovating technologies and services can better avoid tax through shifting profits to low or no-tax jurisdictions.

Hsu spent most parts of his speech comparing the differences between current digital tax regimes around the globe. He illustrated in detail of Taiwan’s digital tax regulation, including its origin and current implementation problems. It takes an accountant to understand fully what he was saying.

The second speaker was Dr. Shih Chou Huang. Passionate about educating the public, Dr. Huang said in advance of his speech that he has recorded himself with today’s lecture and will be posting the content on his YouTube channel right after today’s event. Hearing from the previous speaker, Huang realized several of his points have already been covered. Therefore, he would be focusing on using examples to illustrate the challenges of digital tax instead of explaining the definition and regulation details.

The first example Dr. Huang gave was Uber. Uber rolled out its services in Taiwan in 2015 without being legalized. To give more context, the San Francisco-based company was licensed to operate in Taiwan as an information service provider, and the fact that Uber was actually providing ride-hailing services via its platform was against Taiwanese law. In other words, Uber was in fact illegally operating a passenger transportation service, an economic sector closed to foreign businesses.

Tax has been the center of contention when it comes to this controversy. In 2015, the company earned an estimated US$620,000 in Taiwan but paid only US$30,000 in tax. That was because Uber’s passengers in Taiwan pay Uber drivers via an app bundled with credit cards that pay to Uber’s office in Amsterdam, bypassing Taiwan’s government. Some claimed that this was not  fair to other transportation service providers in Taiwan.

Dr. Huang explained in detail Uber’s business model, basically how it manages to operate globally without having to pay the tax in those countries where it provides services. It was not until late 2020 the Uber finally incorporated in Taiwan and start paying value-added business tax.

Agoda operates in a similar fashion like Uber. The company set up an office in Taipei and hired local employees to sign contracts with Taiwanese hotels without registering as a business. In 2015, The National Taxation Bureau of Taipei (NTBT) fined the company by NT$20 million for violating the Business Tax Law and the Tax Collection Act and for failing to issue unified invoices.

Referencing the OECD’s findings, Huang explained the three characteristics of highly digitalized business models:

  • Cross-jurisdictional scale without mass. Digitalization has allowed businesses in many sectors to locate different stages of their production processes across various countries, and at the same time access more customers around the globe. Some highly digitalized enterprises are therefore able to partivipate in the economic life of a jurisdiction without any, or any significant, physical presence. Namely, the companies achieve operational local scale without local mass.
  • Reliance on intangible assets, including intellectual property (IP). One of the distinct characteristics of digitalized enterprise is the weigh they put on investing in intangibles, especially intellectual property assets. Many digitalized enterprises rely heavily on IP assets such as software and algorithms to support their platforms, websites and many other critical functions.
  • Data, user participation and their synergies with IP. Most highly digitalized businesses are interdepent with data, user participation, network effects and user-generated content. The more information companies collect from users and customers, the more data they can analyze and gain advantage in competition. Social network is the perfect example of how user participation is vital for these highly digitalized businesses. Without data, network effects and user-generated content, the businesses would not exist as we know them today.

Both Uber and Agoda are we call today the ‘sharing and gig economy’. Again referencing the OECD’s report, Huang explained how the multi-sided online platforms play the critical role of facilitating digitalization. Thanks to these kind of platforms. Individual can sell and purchase goods and services without following the traditional business structure.

According to The Sharing and Gig Economy: Effective Taxation of Platform Sellers, the OECD’s report published in 2019, the sharing economy is usually linked with assets and the gig economy with services. Assets and services are often provided together (such as a driver and a car). Common examples are the temporary rental of a spare bedroom, idling apartment or parking space, or providing services such as goods delivery, cleaning services or ride-hailing services.

To be fair, the essence of sharing and gig economy is nothing new in human history. For a long time, people have been practicing the same thing in a smaller scale via word-of-mouth or community advertising and networking. It has traditionally been difficult to tax these kinds of practice due to the difficulty of monitoring and assessing the amount and value of such transactions, not to mention how to identify the individuals involved. And it did not bother the government as much. The fact that the scope and scale is so much larger now while crossing jurisdictions is what brings this to the state’s attention.

The concern is that platform sellers may be less likely than traditional businesses to understand their tax obligations, or that they even have tax obligations. If the government cannot assure effective taxation of such business practices, this kind of informal economy will most definitely grow substantially over time, which can have detrimental impacts on competition and public revenues.

This brings us back to the issue of digital tax. Several countries have introduced national digital taxes, many of which risked invoking tax wars with the US. The OECD started in 2015 to negotiate on a new global tax regime where taxes are not collected where a corporation is headquartered, but where it does business. The G20/OECD BEPS Group recently finalizes its proposal, the so-called “Two Pillar Approach.” Pillar One would establish new rules on where tax should be paid, ensuring highly digitalized global enterprises (such as Amazon, Google and Facebook) pay taxes where they conduct sustained and significant business. Pillar Two introduces a minimum tax to prevent enterprises looking for “tax heavens.”

Taiwan is not a member of the G20/OECD BEPS Group. Can Taiwan learn from OECD’s proposed approach anyways? No one has a definite answer. We do encourage any such discussions invite all relevant stakeholders and policy makers to consult with the public before nailing down the regulations.

數位經濟下的課稅發展與困境

活動資訊

日期:2021年4月21日(三 )14:00-16:00

地點:IEAT會議中心 3F 第一會議室(臺北市中山區松江路350號,台北市進出口商業同業公會)

專題演講1:

數位經濟發展下的稅制調適 / 講者:許嘉銘 會計師(勤業眾信會計師事務所)

專題演講2:

數位稅制與數位轉型 / 講者:黃士洲 副教授(國立臺北商業大學 財政稅務系)

數位經濟發展下的稅制調適 / 許嘉銘 會計師

現在正是數位經濟崛起的時代,其主要特徵包括:國界模糊跨境交易盛行(無須在當地設置企業即可交易)、資訊不對稱的優勢逐漸降低(大部分資訊皆可查詢)、跨業競爭加劇產業界線模糊(例如Uber)、獨佔及寡佔事業具主導優勢(大型科技企業能掌握更多客戶資料並取得更多優勢),雖然數位經濟與過往實體經濟有所不同,但業者尋求利潤極大化的商業本質並未改變。過往以實體經濟為主的課稅準則已面臨嚴峻挑戰,有鑑於此,各國開始推動各自版本的數位稅,其課稅主要目標是大型美國科技企業(Google、Apple、Facebook和Amazon,GAFA),在各國各自為政的情況下,課徵數位稅也產生若干爭議,著名案例是2019年的美法貿易衝突。

2019年,法國單方面對美國科技企業跨境課稅,然而美方認為其科技企業並未於法國在地營運,因此對課稅正當性提出質疑,同時美國也對法國產品課以100%關稅作為報復。衝突發生之原因在於未訂定全球統一數位稅課徵標準,目前經濟合作暨發展組織(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,OECD)正倡議尋求國際一致的課徵標準,美國拜登政府亦對此表示贊同。數位稅的課徵對象為數位經濟活動,這些活動依賴大量數據資料,且目前交易形式不斷演進,各國政府已將數位稅列為關注重點並急於尋求解決之道。

許嘉銘會計師會議中所提到的議題包括:既有課稅模式爭議與OECD稅基侵蝕與利潤轉移(Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,BEPS)行動方案內涵、各國數位稅實施情況與OECD全球數位稅倡議,以下分別介紹之。

既有課稅模式爭議與OECD稅基侵蝕與利潤轉移(Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,BEPS)行動方案內涵

既有模式爭議

  • 企業透過網路(須伺服器公司連線)或在地服務供應商提供服務給客戶而產生營利行為,但營利行為認定標準在於企業能否控制作為中間廠商的伺服器公司與在地服務供應商,若證據不足導致無法認定,政府便無法對該企業課稅。
  • 企業可透過宣稱「由於同時有許多使用者使用伺服器或供應商服務,因此其無法控制中間廠商」而免除繳稅責任。

OECD稅基侵蝕與利潤轉移行動(Base Erosion and Profit Shifting,BEPS)行動方案內涵

  • 方案緣起:由於「數位經濟」與「實體經濟」日益混雜,而目前課稅措施和邏輯僅基於實體經濟而無法因應現狀,因此訂定該規範。
  • 將「課稅連結」(nexus)、「數位資料」(data)與「收入劃分」(characterization)定義為數位經濟對所得稅制的三大挑戰。
  • 依服務販賣對象(個人或企業)之差異而產生不同課徵稅率。
  • 不贊成任何單方面的課稅行動,但各國可自行評估「數位經濟」是否嚴重影響其稅基,在不影響租稅協定條文的情況下,可就特定方向課徵數位服務稅。

各國數位稅的實施情況:

在我國數位稅課稅對象為國內外電商,當跨境電商辦理完稅基登記,便具有繳交營業稅之義務。

  • 2018年1月,政府公布《境外電商所得稅課徵規範解釋令》,要求電商只要在臺灣提供數位服務交易,自2017年1月開始須繳交所得稅。
  • 課稅標的:下載使用、線上使用與實體地點使用等三種電子勞務。針對境內無固定場所之外國營利事業,年銷售額大於48萬元者須落地辦理稅籍登記,其他則採逆向課稅模式,政府得針對購買勞務之企業課稅。
  • 跨境電商營業稅課稅規範對在臺電商之影響:當境外電商須負擔營業稅,由於其議價能力較強,因此可能將營業稅成本轉移給在臺電商。

目前歐盟已著手制定會員國數位稅課徵標準,其中包括所得稅長期性解決草案與所得過渡性措施,以下分別說明之。

所得稅長期性解決草案內容:

  • 課稅對象:於歐盟境內進行顯著數位化活動之企業。
  • 顯著數位化活動認定標準包括:使用者數位服務所創造之營收超過歐元700萬者、活躍使用者數超過10萬者或與其使用者締結超過3,000份數位服務商業性合約者。
  • 目前細部規範和課稅標準尚在研擬階段。

所得過渡性措施

  • 針對全球年營業額大於7.5億歐元(線上廣告、販賣使用者資訊與提供平臺的業者)或歐盟地區數位服務年營業額大於5,000萬歐元之集團,其課徵稅率為3%。

整體而言,歐盟擬議的數位稅措施對大型科技業者影響較大,但也可能促使科技業者將成本轉嫁給中小型廠商。

目前實施數位稅的歐洲國家包括英國、法國、西班牙、義大利、捷克與奧地利,不同國家的課稅對象有所差異,例如法國針對中介服務課稅;英國針對平臺課稅;西班牙和義大利針對線上廣告課稅。在稅率方面,各國的數位稅率大同小異,大都位於2%至3%之間,唯奧地利(5%)和土耳其(7.5%)採較高稅率。目前實施數位稅的亞洲國家包括:韓國、日本、印尼、泰國和印度,其中東南亞地區的數位稅性質偏向營業稅,屬間接稅。

OECD全球數位稅倡議

OECD的願景為推出數位稅全球解決方案,原則上該方案須取得所有會員國的同意,目前OECD已發佈意見徵詢稿並預計於今年年中推出具體方案,其中包括pillar 1與pillar 2兩大支柱,以下分別說明之:

  • Pillar 1:數位經濟活動仰賴消費者資料,價值創造地點是在消費行為所在地,但根據目前稅法,企業是依據設廠國家稅率繳稅,因此,科技企業往往透過在稅率較低的國家設廠以規避稅賦。設置Pillar 1的目的便在於解決上述爭議,透過將利潤從企業所在地國分割至消費行為所在地國使企業負擔應負稅額,目前利潤分割基本原則是課稅連結性,其他細節還有待擬議。
  • Pillar 2:訂定最低稅負方式,確保在從事分割利潤行為時無不適當的配置。

數位稅制與數位轉型 / 黃士洲 副教授【簡報下載

黃教授介紹科技企業如何透過分別設置帳管與錢櫃公司進行避稅行為,並簡述了在當代數位經濟強勢發展下的電商經營模式。平臺林立也使過往多屬地下經濟的零工經濟與分享經濟登上檯面,因此促使政府思考如何對這些經濟行為進行課稅,另外,也對全球數位稅的發展情形做了簡單的說明。

數位稅制與數位轉型-從Uber落地談起:

  • Uber總公司位於加州,並分別於荷蘭和百慕達群島設立帳管公司與錢櫃公司進行避稅。帳管公司是消費者的繳費對象,由於荷蘭與許多國家有租稅協定,因此可使Uber繳納較低稅額;錢櫃公司的作用則是保存Uber的營利所得,Uber透過將營利所得匯回錢櫃公司而免除向母國美國繳稅之義務。
  • 承接前述,若要完整避稅,Uber須證明旗下的帳管公司與錢櫃公司有實質營運活動,其方法為透過讓錢櫃公司核章部分文件以取得實質營運證明。透過設置帳管公司與錢櫃公司,電商能遞延所得實現並濫用部分國家的優惠租稅協定,同時使市場所在地之服務者和消費者的金流繞道至境外。
  • 目前國際課稅基本原則為:若企業在某國有固定營業處所(該處所須從事核心業務內容)則須繳納稅賦給該國。Uber和Agoda都是未於臺灣設置固定營業處所而得以逃稅的案例。在民國107年Uber與政府的一場爭訟中,法官判決Uber金流繞道之行徑已構成租稅規避行為,該判決認為Uber使金流繞道境外的唯一理由是規避在臺繳稅,其非屬正當營利理由。

高度數位化的電商經營模式:

  • 透過平臺,無須設置實體營運處或投入龐大資產即可進行跨國交易,利潤移轉已成為一種企業收取權利金的手段。
  • 仰賴智慧財產權(業者可隨時進行利潤移轉,透過移轉收取權利金同時使利潤具法律基礎)。
  • 使用者參與貢獻資訊(網路平臺透過使用者貢獻大量資料,並針對使用者偏好進行精準行銷以獲利)。

零工經濟與分享經濟的數位平臺化:

零工經濟:利用空閒時間與他人媒合以提供勞務,相關案例為日本的萬事屋。

分享經濟:與他人共享閒置資產(有時是閒置時間)。

在過去網路尚未充分發展的年代,上述兩種經濟模式通常屬於地下經濟。然而,在數位經濟蓬勃發展的今日,平臺可將上述兩者地上經濟化,相關案例包括:餐飲外送、跑腿代買、酒後代駕、居家照護與空間清潔等。有鑑於此,零工經濟與分享經濟將受政府規制,但也為政府行政稽徵帶來許多機會與挑戰,包括:

  • 稽徵機關須設計制式申報表單與扣繳機制規範電商平臺交易行為。
  • 由於平臺交易類型複雜加上義務納稅人相對多元,因此產生實務執行之困難。
  • 平臺營業人可能位於境外。
  • 若不妥善訂定規範,可能會產生的風險包括:地下經濟更加猖獗、侵害正當營業人的競爭公平性與侵蝕稅收與國家稅基的風險。

全球數位稅發展情形:

  • OECD的全球數位稅倡議(可參考上一場次之說明)。
  • 目前已有多個歐盟國家實施歐盟版本的數位稅,但也有部分國家(如芬蘭)未實施或實施自己版本的數位稅(如奧地利),目前數位稅的實施仍呈現分裂與不一致的情況。
  • 拜登政府透過實際提案(The Made In America Tax Plan)支持課徵數位稅。

提問與回應

問題列表

  • 歐盟尚未針對下載App行為進行課稅,其他國家是否有此情形?
  • 為何數位廣告稅會成為課徵數位稅的共識?

講者回應

許嘉銘會計師:其他國家並未針對下載App的個別行為進行課稅,但目前部分國家針對平臺企業進行課稅。由於Google等大型平臺透過廣告取得大量利益,因此各國逐漸形成課徵數位廣告稅之共識。