Tag: Arm’s length principle

Transactions between related parties are referred to as “controlled” transactions, as distinct from “uncontrolled” transactions between independent companies.

The forces that regulate pricing of transactions between independent parties are known as “marked forces”. Independent parties can be assumed to operate in their own self-interest (“on an arm’s length basis”) in negotiating terms and conditions for transactions. Put in simple terms an independent seller would want to sell at the highest price and an independent buyer would want to buy at the lowest price – and the price agreed between the two independent parties would be determined in an equilibrium of these two opposite forces.

Absent regulation, pricing of controlled transactions within MNE Groups would be determined by forces that differs from those that govern pricing between independent parties – e.g. the overall group profit and taxation.

For these reasons regulation is needed. “Transfer pricing” is the general term used for regulation of pricing and terms in controlled transactions. In most countries transfer pricing is governed by the Arm’s length principle.

Transfer pricing regulations would allow for an adjustment  in the example above. The price of 90 set in the controlled transaction between related parties would be reduced to 80 based on the price agreed between independent parties under comparable circumstances.

The authoritative statement of the arm’s length principle is found in paragraph 1 of Article 9 of the OECD Model Tax Convention, which forms the basis of bilateral tax treaties involving OECD member countries and an increasing number of non-member countries and on which most countries internal regulations are based.

Article 9 provides:

[Where] conditions are made or imposed between the two [associated] enterprises in their commercial or financial relations which differ from those which would be made between independent enterprises, then any profits which would, but for those conditions, have accrued to one of the enterprises, but, by reason of those conditions, have not so accrued, may be included in the profits of that enterprise and taxed accordingly.

By seeking to adjust profits in MNEs by reference to the conditions which would have obtained between independent enterprises in comparable transactions and comparable circumstances, the arm’s length principle follows the approach of treating the members of an MNE group as if they were operating as separate entities rather than as inseparable parts of a single unified group.

Transfer pricing does not necessarily involve tax avoidance, as the need to set such prices is a normal aspect of how MNEs must operate. Where the pricing does not accord with internationally applicable norms or with the arm’s length principle under domestic law, the tax administration may consider this to be “mis-pricing”, “incorrect pricing”, “unjustified pricing” or non-arm’s length pricing, and issues of tax avoidance and evasion may potentially arise.

Transfer Pricing Methods

A transfer pricing method is applied for the purpose of determining the price of a controlled transaction. Methods acknowledge by the OECD The five methods approved by the OECD are the comparable uncontrolled price (CUP) method, resale price method (RPM), cost plus method (CPM), transactional net margin method (TNMM) and the transactional profit split method (TPSM). OECD also acknowledge use of methods applying techniques used by independent parties for price setting (e.g. valuation techniques for […]

Transfer Pricing and the Arm’s Length Principle

A significant volume of global trade consists of international transfers of goods and services, capital and intangibles within MNE groups and thus between related parties. Transactions between related parties are referred to as “controlled” transactions, as distinct from “uncontrolled” transactions between independent companies. The forces that regulate pricing of transactions between independent parties are known as “marked forces”. Independent parties can be assumed to operate in their own self-interest (“on an arm’s length basis”) in […]

Switzerland vs R&D Pharma, December 2018, Tribunal fédéral suisse, 2C_11/2018

The Swiss company X SA (hereinafter: the Company or the Appellant), is part of the multinational pharmaceutical group X, whose parent holding is X BV (hereinafter referred to as the parent company) in Netherlands, which company owns ten subsidiaries, including the Company and company X France SAS (hereinafter: the French company). According to the appendices to the accounts, the parent company did not employ any employees in 2006 or in 2007, on the basis of […]

Malawi vs Eastern Produce Malawi Ltd, July 2018, Malawi High Court, JRN 43 af 2016

Eastern Produce Ltd is part of Camellia Plc Group, and is is engaged in the growing, production and processing of tea in Malawi. The Malawi tax administration conducted a tax audit and found that transfer prices for intergroup service transactions had not been at arm’s length. However, in the notifications to Eastern Produce Ltd. no reference was made to the local arm’s length regulations – only the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines. Eastern Produce Limited complained to the High […]

Costa Rica vs Corrugados del Guarco S.A., March 2018, Supreme Court, Case No 13-002632-1027-CA

Corrugados del Guarco S.A. had declared losses on controlled transactions for FY 2003, 2004 and 2005 as export prices for these transactions had been set below cost and without profit margin, and also different from the price charged for that product to other independent or unrelated companies, in favour of its related company Envases Nicaragüenses S.A. According to the Corrugados del Guarco S.A. the reason why the prices of these controlled transactions had been set low was […]

OECD Article 9 (with commentary)

ARTICLE 9 ASSOCIATED ENTERPRISES 1. Where an enterprise of a Contracting State participates directly or indirectly in the management, control or capital of an enterprise of the other Contracting State, or the same persons participate directly or indirectly in the management, control or capital of an enterprise of a Contracting State and an enterprise of the other Contracting State, and in either case conditions are made or imposed bet ween the two enterprises in their […]

TPG2017 Chapter I paragraph 1.3

When transfer pricing does not reflect market forces and the arm’s length principle, the tax liabilities of the associated enterprises and the tax revenues of the host countries could be distorted. Therefore, OECD member countries have agreed that for tax purposes the profits of associated enterprises may be adjusted as necessary to correct any such distortions and thereby ensure that the arm’s length principle is satisfied. OECD member countries consider that an appropriate adjustment is […]

TPG2017 Chapter I paragraph 1.1

This Chapter provides a background discussion of the arm’s length principle, which is the international transfer pricing standard that OECD member countries have agreed should be used for tax purposes by MNE groups and tax administrations. The Chapter discusses the arm’s length principle, reaffirms its status as the international standard, and sets forth guidelines for its application.

TPG2017 Preface paragraph 15

OECD member countries continue to endorse the arm’s length principle as embodied in the OECD Model Tax Convention (and in the bilateral conventions that legally bind treaty partners in this respect) and in the 1979 Report. These Guidelines focus on the application of the arm’s length principle to evaluate the transfer pricing of associated enterprises. The Guidelines are intended to help tax administrations (of both OECD member countries and non-member countries) and MNEs by indicating […]

Switzerland vs. Corp, Jan. 2015, Case No. 2C_1082-2013, 2C_1083-2013

In this case, the Swiss Court elaborates on application of the arm’s length principel, transfer pricing methods, OECD TPG, and the burden of proof in Switzerland. Excerp in English (unofficial translation) “5.1. The question of whether there is a disproportion between the service provided by the company and the compensation it provides is determined by comparison with what has been agreed between independent persons (“Drittvergleich”): the question is whether the benefit would have been granted, […]

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