Cyprus has long enjoyed a relatively stable fiscal environment, especially as far as the corporate tax regime is concerned. Changes to the tax code have traditionally been scarce and far between. Changes are however afoot mostly as a result of international developments. In this newsletter, we examine some of the recent changes and also discuss what possibly lies ahead.
Transfer pricing documentation and APA procedure
One of the biggest developments last year was the introduction of transfer pricing documentation requirements, effective from 1 January 2022. Under the new provisions, broadly, Cyprus tax resident companies and permanent establishments of non-resident companies are required to prepare on an annual basis transfer pricing documentation supporting their controlled transactions with related parties. The documentation consists of the “Master File” and the “Cyprus Local File”. Furthermore, taxpayers are required to complete a summary information table containing high-level information on related-party transactions.
There are certain exemptions to the filing requirements. For example, only Cyprus tax resident entities that are the ultimate parent (or surrogate parent) entity of a Multi National Enterprise (“MNE”) group falling under the scope of country-by-country reporting (i.e. with a consolidated revenue above €750 million), have an obligation to prepare and maintain a Master File.
Also, persons that engage in controlled transactions with an arm’s length value of less than €750,000 annually, in aggregate per transaction category (e.g. sale/purchase of goods, provision/receipt of services, financing transactions and receipt/payment of IP licencing/royalties) are exempt from the obligation to prepare a Local File.
There are penalties for non-compliance with the new obligations.
A formal Advance Pricing Agreement (“APA”) procedure has also been introduced. Cyprus tax resident persons and non- resident persons with a permanent establishment in Cyprus can submit to the Cyprus tax authorities an APA Request with respect to current or future domestic or cross-border transactions. The APA request could be bilateral or even multilateral involving tax authorities in other jurisdictions.
The tax authorities must examine the application and reach a decision within 10 months from the date of the application (in certain cases a longer time period of up to 24 months may be allowed).
APAs are valid for up to 4 years. The APA may be revised, upon application by the taxpayer or at the discretion of the tax authorities. Under certain circumstances, the tax authorities may revoke or cancel an APA.
In granting APAs, the Cyprus tax authorities will obviously need to take into consideration the state aid prohibition under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Art 107) and the recent high-profile litigation on over-generous tax rulings conferred to multinationals by some Member States. Taxpayers requesting an APA should also be aware that under certain circumstances set out in EU legislation adopted by Cyprus, tax authorities are obliged to automatically exchange information on advance pricing agreements issued by them to other Member States and the European Commission.
Although the new transfer pricing documentation requirements and especially the Master File are likely to affect MNEs with limited exposure to Cyprus, in general, good documentation of related party transactions is a recommended practice for transfer pricing compliance. There may also be in-scope Cypriot group companies that have to file the Local File. Affected groups could strive to have some of their overall transfer pricing documentation obligations catered for by Cypriot advisors, to benefit from lower operating costs compared to other jurisdictions.
For more information on how these changes might affect your business, please get in touch with us.
As part of our newsletters we shall attempt to keep you up to date on what is being discussed in the field of taxation of both businesses and individuals.
15% Minimum Effective Tax Rate
For the past few years, the international tax community has been working on the so-called Two-Pillar Solution to deal with the taxation of the digital economy (also, sometimes referred to as BEPS 2.0). Pillar One focuses on rules for taxing profits and rights, with a formula to calculate the proportion of earnings taxable within each relevant jurisdiction. Pillar Two focuses on a global minimum tax of 15% which is to be implemented through domestic and treaty-based rules. The domestic rules are also called the Global Anti-Base Erosion (GloBE) rules.
After several discussion drafts and a consultation document, a global agreement on tax reform was eventually reached in July 2021.
Following this global agreement, the OECD released the Pillar Two Model Rules which defined the scope and key mechanisms of the GloBE rules. On 22 December 2021, the European Commission published its own proposal for an EU directive on global minimum taxation for multinationals, which broadly mirrored the OECD’s GloBE rules. This draft was subsequently revised in compromise texts and eventually adopted in December 2022.
With the adoption of this Directive in the EU, it is widely thought that the much needed ‘critical mass’ for the adoption of Pillar Two by other countries has been reached. Pillar One still seems to be lagging behind, even though it was the front runner in the early discussions at the OECD/G20 level.
One important difference between the new Directive and the OECD’s rules is that the EU rules will apply to ‘large-scale domestic groups’ with a threshold of €750 million consolidated revenue in at least two of the four preceding years. The OECD rules do not apply to domestic groups.
Cyprus, as an EU Member State, will be obliged to incorporate the provisions of the new Directive into domestic legislation by 31 December 2023. There are transitional rules which delay the application of the rules for MNE groups and large-scale domestic groups at the initial phase of their international activity.
Under the system set out in the new Directive, the parent entity of an MNE located in a Member State would be obliged to apply the so-called Income Inclusion Rule (IIR) to its share of top-up tax relating to any entity of the group that is low-taxed (i.e. below the 15% threshold), whether that entity is located within or outside the European Union.
There is also the very controversial Undertaxed Payment Rule (UTPR) which acts as a backstop to the IIR through a reallocation of any residual amount of top-up tax in cases where the entire amount of top-up tax relating to low-taxed entities could not be collected by parent entities through the application of the IIR. The UΤPR will apply in situations where a group is based in a non-EU country and that country does not impose the minimum rate. The constituent entities of such an MNE group that are located in a Member State will have to pay in their Member State a share of the top-up tax linked to the low-taxed subsidiaries of the MNE group. The calculation and allocation of the UTPR top-up tax in the Directive is based on the number of employees and the carrying value of tangible assets.
The Directive provides Member States the option to apply a qualified domestic minimum top-up tax (QDMTT). The domestic top-up tax allows the Member State in which a low-taxed entity is resident to levy the top-up tax before application of the IIR at the level of the parent company (in another jurisdiction). It is expected that most Member States will opt for such tax.
There are detailed rules on the calculation of qualifying income or loss, the computation of adjusted covered taxes and the calculation of the effective tax rate and the top-up tax. There are also special rules for mergers and acquisitions as well as distribution regimes.
Unsurprisingly, there are many reporting obligations which increase the already heavy compliance burden of in-scope MNEs. Each constituent entity of an MNE group located in a Member State must file a top-up tax information return, unless the return is filed by the MNE group in another jurisdiction, with which the Member State has an exchange of information agreement. The constituent entity might also designate another entity located in its Member State to file on its behalf. The returns must be filed within 15 months after the end of the fiscal year to which they relate.
Member States will introduce penalties for failures to file the information return within the prescribed deadline or for making false declarations. The 5% fixed penalty which was suggested in the original version of the Directive has now been withdrawn.
Whilst the impact of this new Directive on Cypriot companies might seem minimal at first instance, the combination of the aforementioned rules (i.e. the IIR, the UTPR and the QDMTT) make it imperative that such companies continuously monitor whether or not they fall outside the scope of the rules. Cypriot constituent entities of in-scope groups could be subject to top-up taxes on the basis of a Cypriot imposed QDMTT. In addition, Cypriot constituent entities of in-scope groups would need to file a top-up tax information return. There might also be restructuring needs or acquisition/divestment opportunities, to ensure reduction or elimination of top-up taxes through jurisdictional blending. The unique structure of the new regime will lead to the creation of new valuable tax attributes that MNEs will strive for. It is important for tax advisors to identify whether a Cypriot company has such valuable tax attributes or how it could develop such attributes in order to minimise the impact of the new rules and the imposition of top-up taxes.
For more information on how these changes might affect your business, please get in touch with us.
What lies ahead for tax in 2023
A “War” against Tax Abuse
Notwithstanding these ground-breaking developments in 2022, it is likely that there will be further developments in 2023 due to the various projects that the European Commission has in the pipelines.
The “Unshell” Proposal
One such project is the “Unshell” proposal which introduces rules on the misuse of entities. The aim of this proposal, which was first published as a draft Directive in December 2021, was to establish transparency standards around the use of shell entities, so that abuse could more easily be detected by tax authorities. The proposal introduces a complex filtering system (gateways) comprising of several substance indicators. Undertakings will need to show that they satisfy the substance indicators, otherwise they will be presumed to be “shells”. Such a finding could lead to penalties, a denial of a tax residency certificate and unavailability of exemptions under the Parent-Subsidiary and Interest and Royalties Directive.
If adopted as proposed, the Unshell proposal will introduce a heavy compliance burden of reporting, preparation of rebuttals and appeals, not just for MNEs but also for smaller undertakings involved in cross-border transactions. The European Commission is widely expected to publish a revised version of this draft Directive in 2023 to meet some of the concerns expressed by several stakeholders. However, the structure of the proposal and the reporting obligations are unlikely to change significantly.
Traditional holding company jurisdictions like Cyprus or Malta are likely to be affected by this proposal. Advisors would need to assess which undertakings may come within the scope of the rules, whether they can benefit from any carve-outs and how they can ensure they remain low-risk in order to be exempt. If reporting of minimum substance is inevitable, then diligent preparation of documentary evidence will be crucial to ensure the rebuttal of the presumption of a shell.
Once the Unshell proposal has been finalised and is expected to be adopted, we will publish a newsletter on how this will affect Cypriot companies.
In addition to the above, the resolve of the European Commission in fighting abuse is further evident from the fact that it is working on a follow-up initiative aimed at tackling the role of enablers in setting up complex structures in non-EU countries with the objective of eroding the tax base of Member States through tax evasion and aggressive tax planning. The proposal will likely include criteria for defining the forms of aggressive tax planning that should be prohibited. This initiative is heavily supported by the European Parliament.
If this proposal goes ahead, it will impose more onerous due diligence obligations on tax intermediaries (lawyers, accountants, general tax advisors). Non-legally trained intermediaries would likely need legal advice to navigate the new rules.
BEFIT Measures – A Proposal for a New Framework for Business Taxation in the EU
Another major initiative to watch out for is the new proposed framework for business taxation in the EU: the ‘Business in Europe: Framework for Income Taxation’ (or BEFIT). This will replace the previously proposed Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base and will provide a common corporate tax base for group companies and consolidation. The European Commission recently published a call for evidence for an impact assessment and asked for public feedback. A legislative proposal for a new corporate tax system is expected later on this year.
We are closely monitoring these and other international developments to ensure our clients are in the best position to comprehend and comply with any new obligations whilst at the same time continuing to benefit from efficient and legitimate tax structuring.