Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Law Could Drastically Raise Taxes On Multinational Corporations

Pressure is growing in Washington to force a tax on foreign companies with subsidiaries in the United States who move funds back to their parent countries that have more favorable tax rates. These businesses currently pay next to nothing in taxes. In response, the United States House of Representatives has already voted to increase tax rates to as much as 30%. However, business groups are saying the measure could deter firms from investing in the United States. Multiple lobby groups state that about 60 multinational companies have already expressed concern about the proposal, which is likely to be considered by the United States Senate some time next month.

Democrats in Congress are regarding the proposal, known as the Doggett law, as a legitimate crackdown on cooperate tax avoidance. They are hoping the tax could raise an estimated $7 billion per year.

The goal of the proposal is to stop multinational corporations from going "treaty shopping" to find countries with more friendly tax laws. If approved by the Senate, the proposal could see firms paying a tax of up to 30% on interest payments and other capital flows between US operating countries and their parent businesses. This tax would be enforced even if the funds were being transferred to affiliates in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This would disrupt a historically tax fee practice that was based upon existing "tax-free" treaties between the United States and these countries. Yet, experts claim that firms based in countries without treaties such as South Korea and Singapore would be hit even harder by the new tax.

The new tax was added as an amendment to a farm appropriations bill drafted earlier this year by a Texas congressman. The practice of adding new legislation as an amendment to another popular bill is common in Congress as a way of negotiating the approval of a law. When making such an amendment to a popular bill members of Congress can dramatically improve their chances of getting a controversial new law passed.

However, numerous Republicans fighting in the Democrat controlled Congress have said the proposals flew in the face of existing treaties with other countries, and were based on a misconceived idea that equates tax avoidance with seeking to find a competitive tax position. "These companies are not doing anything illegal," claims Rhian Chilcott, director of a lobbyist group in Washington. "They are taking advantage of a tax treaty that the United States negotiated years ago." He went on to explain that many local subsidiaries are already paying taxes and would effectively be taxed twice on their income.

However, the Democrats who support the law are emphasizing that the law will be specifically focused on preventing tax havens that are used to hide earning. They claim the goal of the law is not to target legitimate companies that are paying their taxes. Rather it will attempt to gain revenue from companies abusing the treaties to pay little or no taxes on their income. Many massive multinational corporations setup offices in locations that have tax-free treaties with the United States for the sole purpose of avoiding tax liabilities.

For example, if the legislation passed, Samsung’s South Korean conglomerate would not be eligible to make tax-free transfers from it’s United States division to it’s United Kingdom financing unit. Currently the company pays a zero tax rate on such transfers because of the Anglo-American treaty. Samsung’s United States subsidiary would instead be forced to pay the 15-cent tax rate that applies to all Korean companies on transfers from the United States. Unfortunately, no representative from Samsung would comment on the new law.

The measure would also dramatically hit Japanese carmakers with large United States operations. Nissan is one automaker that would likely see increased taxes as a result of the legislation. Several international companies are currently lobbying against the legislation including Panasonic, Unilever, Alcatel-Lucent, Swiss Re, and Allianz. An executive from an undisclosed global corporation said, "this is another signal that the United States is not a friendly place to do business. We do not need this. We can go to Canada or Mexico."

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