On 31 May 2010 the OECD Committee on Fiscal Affairs released a Report on “The Granting of Treaty Benefits with respect to the Income of Collective Investment Vehicles”. The Report contains proposed changes to the Commentary on the OECD Model Tax Convention dealing with the question of the extent to which either collective investment vehicles (CIVs) or their investors are entitled to treaty benefits on income received by the CIVs. These changes are expected to be included in the 2010 Update to the Model Tax Convention (the draft contents of which were released on 21 May 2010) and the Report would then be included in volume II of the loose-leaf and electronic versions of the Model.
The Report is a modified version of the Report “Granting of Treaty Benefits with respect to the Income of Collective Investment Vehicles” of the Informal Consultative Group on the Taxation of Collective Investment Vehicles and Procedures for Tax Relief for Cross-Border Investors (“ICG”) which was released on 12 January 2009. In that original Report, the ICG addressed the legal and policy issues specific to CIVs and formulated a comprehensive set of recommendations addressing the issues presented by CIVs in the cross-border context. The Committee referred the recommendations by the ICG to its Working Party 1 (“WP1”) on Tax Conventions and Related Questions (the Committee’s subsidiary body responsible for changes to the OECD Model Tax Convention) for further consideration. The WP1 Report was issued as a discussion draft on 9 December 2009 and modified in response to public comments.
The main conclusions and recommendations of the Report are similar to those in the ICG Report, with some modifications that reflect the varied experiences of the tax authorities of the OECD countries. Like the ICG Report, the Report therefore analyses the technical questions of whether a CIV should be considered a “person”, a “resident of a Contracting State” and the “beneficial owner” of the income it receives under treaties that, like the OECD Model Tax Convention, do not include a specific provision dealing with CIVs (i.e. the vast majority of existing treaties). Further, the Report includes changes to the Commentary on the Model Tax Convention to reflect the conclusions of the Committee with respect to these issues.
Although these changes to the Commentary will clarify the treatment of CIVs, it is clear that at least some forms of CIVs in some countries will not meet the requirements to claim treaty benefits on their own behalf. Accordingly, the Report also considers the appropriate treatment of such CIVs under both existing treaties and future treaties.
With respect to existing treaties, the Report concludes that, if a CIV is not entitled to claim benefits in its own right, its investors should in principle be able to claim treaty benefits. The Report reflects different views regarding whether such a right should be limited to investors who are residents of the Contracting State in which the CIV is organised, or whether that right should be extended to treaty-eligible residents of third States. In any event, administrative difficulties in many cases effectively prevent individual claims by investors. Accordingly, the Report concludes that countries should adopt procedures to allow a CIV to make the claim on behalf of investors.
With respect to future treaties, the Report endorses the ICG recommendation that the Commentary on Article 1 of the Model Tax Convention should be expanded to include a number of optional provisions for countries to consider in their future treaty negotiations. Inclusion of one or more of these provisions in bilateral treaties would provide certainty to CIVs, investors and intermediaries. The favoured approach for such a provision would treat a CIV as a resident of a Contracting State and the beneficial owner of its income, at least to the extent that its investors would themselves be eligible for benefits from the source country, rather than adopting a full look-through approach. Because different views were expressed on the issue of whether treaty-eligible residents of third countries should be taken into account in determining the extent to which the income of a CIV should be entitled to treaty benefits, the proposed Commentary includes alternative provisions that adopt different approaches with respect to the treatment of treaty-eligible residents of third countries. The proposed Commentary also includes an alternative provision that would adopt a full look-through approach, under which the CIV would make claims on behalf of its investors rather than in its own name. The look-through approach would be appropriate in cases where the investors, such as pension funds, would have been eligible for a lower, or zero, rate of withholding had they invested directly in the underlying securities.