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Hi Facebook, Google, we think we might tax your ads instead – lots of love, Europe x

Anonymous Coward

How do you do this?

The costs involved with running these businesses are not in the countries where the sales are therefore at some point you have to move some of the revenue to cover these costs. This in my opinion is where it gets messy. They could close the Irish loophole but then those costs still need to be paid so how do you determine the profit? These companies could simply claim that the costs are x which would leave small profit y. Trump is also looking at a 10% business tax rate in America so they would just move all the money to America and pay taxes there, it's lower than in Ireland.

I just don't see how they are going to fix it unless they demand that these company's have bases of operation in the countries they sell to and scrutinise the costs they transfer. Any charges at point of sale are just going to be put on the consumer. Revenue charges could work but again how do you determine the costs?

I wish them luck.

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Pint

that these company's have bases of operation in the countries they sell to

I can see the "cloud" making that one a minefield. As for a levy on ads, will we see them trying to get a rebate based on how many people use adblockers?

Here's hoping no-one taxes popcorn...

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Easy

The tax would be levied on the customers of Google, Facebook, etc, not on Google or Facebook themselves.

So if you're a French car dealer looking to advertise to French customers on Google, some money has to flow from your bank account to pay for it. That flow can be taxed. The actual destination for the cash is almost irrelevant.

Evading such a tax would be hard; you can't stop the tax authorities looking at the ads you've bought and reaching conclusions about your company tax returns.

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by every country sharing the tax records.

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Boffin

@Bazza Re: Easy

No, its not so easy.

Pretend that you are the customer. How does the government know what you bought? You are self reporting what you owe. So how does the government audit that you are paying your fair share? Want to see an example? In the US, when you purchase things online from a business who isn't in your state doesn't charge you a sales tax. You are supposed to self report and pay the tax to your state. How many people actually do this? (E.g. You buy a new 8K TV from an electronics store not in your home state, you save ~10.4% sales tax if you live in Chicago IL)

That's just the first problem.

With respect to actually taxing revenues... These companies are playing games. E.g. Starbucks shipping product to a centralized depot in one country with a lower tax rate, then shipping the product to the rest of Europe so that the bulk of the profit margin is captured at a lower tax rate.

In the digital economy, if you tax at the point of sale and not allow Google to claim that the sale took place in Ireland when the customer is in France... you can capture the fair tax. Its a transaction tax or use tax.

This is something the countries can do and IMHO should do.

Google and other companies have brought this on themselves for gaming the system. Note: While its not illegal to game the system, but the system was based on trust that companies wouldn't do that.

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The only way to fix this is to have a small % put on the transaction, similar to VAT that VAT registered companies cannot claim back.

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Turnover taxes are a rubbish idea. They favour high profit / low volume companies over low margin / high volume ones. So they'd punish Huawei as against Apple, for example. They also deter investment and so growth.

The answer may well have to be some Single Market corporation tax and VAT harmonisation. Although it would help if Ireland kept their low Corp Tax rate, but made companies pay it on all single market revenue, and stopped allowing non-Irish profits to escape.

Also Trump may help here. If he can get Congress to lower US Corp tax to nearer European levels, there'll be less incentive to dodge it. But the worst distortion is caused by the tax deferral on retained foreign earnings. If US companies had to pay tax on it anyway, they wouldn't have kept a couple of trillion dollars off-shore, avoiding the tax for now, and hoping for a tax holiday to persuade them to repatriate the loot.

This won't make Europe happy, as most of Apple and Google's taxes will go to Uncle Sam. But that is where most of their economic activity is really, so it's reasonable.

In the long term the answer is global cooperation, and harmonised rules on accounting for international profits. If the big tax authorities audited, and shared their data a bit, they could keep the global corps relatively honest.

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Ouch!

Harmonisation of tax rules is effectively handing over full sovereignty. You can no longer spend money on what you want because you cannot choose how much to collect.

Whilst the EU technocrats might favour it, there's not been one single national government in Europe that's expressed a view in favour of such a move (AFAIK). It is as much a political union as anything else, and no national prime minister or president seems keen on giving up their control entirely...

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Re: Ouch!

Harmonisation of tax rules is effectively handing over full sovereignty. You can no longer spend money on what you want because you cannot choose how much to collect.

It's the only way the single market can function though. As a leave voter if this existed I'd have probably not voted to leave.

It'll never happen but it's the only way to stop companies making sales in one country and booking them as sales in a tax-favourable regime like Luxembourg or Ireland. Right now fairness in Europe is a myth.

Also yeah you can't chose what to collect, you're in the EU. If you can chose your own tax rate and money can flow across borders without question and goods can flow across borders without question what does that say about the EU exactly? That it's built for the express purpose of evading tax payments for any company large enough to take advantage of it - and nobody else. The best part is when those states fail because they're charging effectively no tax every other idiot country has to pick up the tab all over again.

For sure the idea of taxing non-profitable transactions is utterly absurd.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ouch!

Not even the USA, a federation of sovereign states, has a unified tax code. It's kinda ridiculous.

There's no uniform taxation across the UK. Okay we're used to PAYE, but council tax is not charged at the same rates across the nation. There's tax breaks for companies setting up in certain locations. And so on.

Whilst there's elected politicians, there's tax diversity. It's almost a hallmark of democracy, so it's probably a good thing.

Also yeah you can't chose what to collect, you're in the EU.

I don't think that's right - for example we don't pay VAT on many things that the EU says we should (children's clothes, fresh food, etc). And every country in Europe sets its own tax rates and laws, many of which conflict with EU policy I expect. Tax harmonisation is one of the things the EU has gone on about a lot, but has had very little impact on.

Most of the problems in the European Economy come down to poor tax collection systems. Italy solved a lot of its problems a few years ago simply by enforcing its own tax laws more (the imposed, unelected technocratic government of the time didn't need to appeal to voters...). Greece would benefit from the same.

Like them or loath them, HMRC is actually relatively effective at collecting tax (I emphasis the word "relative"). This makes government borrowing cheaper, because the lenders know that UK PLC could always pay off the bill if it had to. That in turn saves us all a huge sum of money.

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Re: Ouch!

It's the only way the single market can function though. As a leave voter if this existed I'd have probably not voted to leave.

Wow, streaky, man! You voted LEAVE because the EU wasn't near enough to a single homogeneous state for you?

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Re: Ouch!

I talked about some harmonisation of corp tax and VAT in my original post. That, I think, is possible. Though Ireland / Luxemburg / Malta etc would want some compensation for giving up some more of their sovereignty.

That kind of treaty change would require a referendum in Ireland, Denmark, and probably also France and Sweden plus a couple of others. It's one of the reasons Cameron couldn't get much in his renegotiation, Juncker is almost the only major European politician who'd like to see treaty change. None of the national governments dare touch it, as they're all too scared of trying to sell a referendum on more integration. Even if the Eurozone could come up with some policy to make the Euro a workable long-term currency, they then also have to work out how to get the voters to approve it - or come up with a policy that doesn't need treaty change.

Anyway some harmonisation of rules could just be done by inter-governmental agreement. And as long as it doesn't totally fix rates, it's not that bad for democracy. Obviously you can't raise as much through corp tax and VAT (or even get more than you want), but you still get to decide on green taxes, income taxes, stamp duties, dividend rates and land taxes.

Against the loss of sovereignty argument is also the reality one. All EU governments are currently free to set their corp tax rates to 50%. They just can't. Because all their companies would leave. Even small businesses might profit from setting up a branch in some other Single Market country, and moving their profits there at that point. So maybe agreeing a band of acceptable taxes might help, or even just agreeing ways to collect them, and the kind of offers you're allowed to make to attract companies from other countries.

There's already a tiny bit of VAT harmonisation. Once we charge VAT on something, no future government can remove it again. Which is why when Major's government brought fuel charges into VAT, Labour were only allowed to reduce them to 5% (as we had a pre-exisiting 5% rate for some things). Same with the campaign to get tampons zero-rated - EU rules don't allow. 5% is the minimum - obviously until we leave the EU.

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Re: Ouch!

The mind boggles.

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Re: Ouch!

Not even the USA, a federation of sovereign states, has a unified tax code. It's kinda ridiculous.

Yes, it does.

I don't think that's right - for example we don't pay VAT on many things that the EU says we should (children's clothes, fresh food, etc)

We would if there wasn't an exemption for rates that haven't been touched since we left the EU. This is where the tampon tax argument comes from. We can't zero rate it because it wasn't when we joined. If we wanted to set a 1% rate on children's clothes we couldn't, it'd have to be the harmonised rate. If we then also wanted to set it back to zero rated we couldn't because of the harmonised rate.

Most of the problems in the European Economy come down to poor tax collection systems

No most of them come down to the fact the value of the Euro is too high for the southern states of the EU so they can't export their wares, and the fact it's too low for states like Germany. So Germany exports its high value wares for relatively speaking cheap and can still get away with decent tax revenues on that. Greece can't export its lower value goods and also generate revenue. Most of the issue is that the economies of Europe are wildly unbalanced and the currency doesn't work for basically anybody on some level. One option would be massive German investment in southern europe but hell will freeze over first. Also yes the US does have exactly this issue, as does the UK - just to a less extreme degree. Harmonising currencies without harmonising tax regimes and economies is stupid, which is precisely why every economist says so.

Though Ireland / Luxemburg / Malta etc would want some compensation for giving up some more of their sovereignty.

They've already given it up, they're in the EU - it's just a question of if/when the Commission will wield that power.

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Re: Ouch!

"HMRC is actually relatively effective at collecting tax"

There are a few variables at play but it comes down to:

How much tax is collected.

How much it costs to collect it.

New Zealand dramatically simplified its tax structure in 1984-5 and lowered most tax rates, the government expected a lowering of overall taxation take by about 20%

The simplification removed a LOT of exemptions and various shit which was tying up tax staff in knots and made for a 40 page tax return. (The new one was 5 pages). Higher income earners ended up paying more tax as most of their loopholes were closed whilst low-middle earners paid the same or less (many low earners ended up paying none at all)

HOWEVER, the cost of collecting tax was reduced dramatically, as was the number of staff required to collect it - resulting in the tax department of 1991-2 being 2/3 or less the size of the one of 1984, and that reverses a problematic trend in government departments where they keep accreting staff over time no matter what their function is, but treasury-related ones are never cleaned up.

The interesting part was that by making things uncomplicated the government had more to spend but so did the majority of the population and they did so.

(NZ has undone most of the simplification since 1998 thanks to special interests, but a point has been proven.)

In the UK, there are something like 30-50,000 people chasing far less than £1billion of benefit fraud, whilst HMRC only has 1500 chasing £30-150billion (depending whose figures you believe) of tax fraud.

What's the cost-benefit of that?

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Re: Ouch!

"No most of them come down to the fact the value of the Euro is too high for the southern states of the EU so they can't export their wares, and the fact it's too low for states like Germany. "

The same thing happens in the USA - places like South Dakota would be a 3rd world shithole if not part of the union.

Rich states subsidise poor states in the USA - and the poor states usually resent it.

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Re: Ouch!

Yeah it's a shitshow. Everybody knows it but nobody wants to do anything about it, because solidarity. Except when solidarity means it's going to cost you to fix the eurozone's economy. There are actually people in Europe who think more loans is the fix to Greece et al's problems. It isn't and it's going to go pop worse than it did in 2008 because nobody wants to face reality.

Oh, Greece, is that still going on? Is the basic attitude. Yes it is.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ouch!

>Oh, Greece, is that still going on? Is the basic attitude. Yes it is.

Very happy not to have been along for the ride the past few years - but their GDP growth is 1.1% currently and projected to be 2.8% next year. In 2016 their primary surplus was 3.8% GDP too. Pretty sure the human cost has been too high (their surplus target was only 0.5% so they pushed down too hard) but their future looks much brighter than the UK right now.

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Re: Ouch!

Off the back of QE. I don't why people like to use these numbers, sure, growth from nothing is a thing.

Turns out if you gets loads of debt you grow. Doesn't affect the ability to service that debt or turn you into an economic powerhouse that people are trying to claim you are. Also seriously wait till the QE stops and the ECB has to offload all those bonds... They have to go somewhere and it'll be onto the market who will baulk at them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ouch!

>Off the back of QE. I don't why people like to use these numbers, sure, growth from nothing is a thing. Turns out if you gets loads of debt you grow.

The target was a 0.5% primary surplus (hugely exceeded) not growth - though obviously one follows the other.

QE is not debt it's devaluation - similar levels of QE in the UK have achieved neither - we're entering a period of negative growth, have a huge deficit and have doubled debt - and seen an unprecedented devaluation against dollar and euro.

Truth is the ECB actually have both a clue and an effective, albeit brutal, strategy looking more than a decade ahead - we have a bunch of rank amateurs advised by partisan city folk who can't even meet their own dubious success criteria and who are focused solely on the next election.

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Re: Ouch!

QE is not debt it's devaluation

It's devaluation by debt. One buy's one's own bonds - at a rate of 80 billion euros/month in the ECB's case. Those bonds need offloading. There's are *significant* bond holdings in the ECB of Eurozone state debt. Significant.

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Even a transaction tax would be difficult if they had no presence in your country; unless they block companies that don't pay with a Great Firewall Mk II. Otherwise they simply wouldn't pay.

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Anonymous Coward

Any transaction tax would simply be paid by the users - that is the customers. So what the EU is saying is that they are not taxing their own people enough and want more money - as they always do.

And yes, the US tax rules are rather foolish, but date from a time where this was seen as an export incentive. A bit out of date for companies like Apple and Google

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@ AC

"So what the EU is saying is that they are not taxing their own people enough and want more money"

I think we should look at it from another angle: rising the price of internet-acquired imported goods and services -e.g. through VAT or a VAT like tax- would make small local sellers and brick shops more competitive. Nowadays these small-ish companies have to compete against Internet companies that don't pay any VAT.

Just removing this difference would at least give a chance to local small startups and brick-and-mortar shops.

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Re: @ AC

"Nowadays these small-ish companies have to compete against Internet companies that don't pay any VAT.

End consumers are the main payers of VAT, not companies.

If you are on about buying off the likes of Alibaba and the exporter not paying the taxes, that's tax evasion and that is already illegal.

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Re: @ AC

"that's tax evasion and that is already illegal"

And that's precisely what happens with 90%* of those "imports" nowadays. That is for 'goods' but for 'services' the situation was/is? even worse.

*note: I remember reading a report on the subject a few years ago where they said that the amount of fraud was higher than that, but the situation might have improved in the last years. One can always hope...

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah, why should any person/any entity pay tax.

I look forward to seeing your wives/mothers/partners drop your sprogs on the bathroom floor rather than a state run hospital and then splurge £9K a year tuition fees for the next 20 years so the new meat sack workers can get educated for a job good enough to earn the money to repeat the process with their genes.

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looks like the EU needs cash

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When I bought a book from Kenkyusha in Tokyo and it was posted to me in the UK, where was the economic activity taking place?

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Holmes

Both places

But Japan has no interest in taxing you, they already get the benefit of an export. So the UK is the one that should go and exhort her pound of flesh. Of course under the premise that sales tax makes any sense and has some fairness.

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Re: Both places

What benefit is an export to Japan? They only thing they get out of the deal is some UK currency to buy some UK stuff.

Imports make us richer. Exports merely pay for our importing habits.

As for taxes on turnover, that's simply a catastrophically stupid idea. I was a remainer through and through, but with the EU railroading through ideas like that, then perhaps Brexit is for the best.

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It was taking place in Japan.

However if it is over a certain value, then an import duty should of been paid.

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Re: Both places

"As for taxes on turnover, that's simply a catastrophically stupid idea."

This. Do these people have no understanding of economics at all?

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Re: Both places

"As for taxes on turnover, that's simply a catastrophically stupid idea"

Works at a personal level (mostly) - so why not the corporate...?

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Re: Both places

Gio Ciampa,

Your income tax is basically a profit tax. You don't get taxed on your expenses.

If you run a personal company, say as an IT consultant, then you get to claim many expenses from your fees before getting taxed on your income.

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Re: Both places

"Your income tax is basically a profit tax."

Funny you should say that, because what you call my "profit" I call the operative expenses of staying alive. When the only part of my income that gets taxed are my savings we can talk about this profit thing again...

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"However if it is over a certain value, then an import duty should of been paid."

This, in spades.

But the problem with setting the threshold too low is that the government ends up paying more in administration charges than it collects - and that's despite the likes of royal mail deciding to extort £100 or so from the recipient as "handling fees"

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Anonymous Coward

Darn euro commies!

Leave our Texas alone!

[joke]

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"Digital economy"

It's not the digital economy they have a problem with. Facebook and Google are just two big companies that happen to be digital. They have the same problem with Apple, which when all is said and done is mostly selling hardware.

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Sales Tax

There's clearly more to this than I can see, because otherwise I don't understand why the governments don't levy a sales tax in each country, very much like VAT, to be collected on any and every purchase of goods and services. Probably much simpler accounting this way too.

It is simply wrong that the internet giants don't pay their share and if there is a relatively quick and effective way to get fair taxes for schools, hospitals (and the kind of welfare that Amazon and Uber drivers need even after their pitiful wages) - why not just get on with it?

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Re: Sales Tax

Companies are unaffected by VAT. Apart from the expense of the admit overhead.

Consumers pay VAT.

What Google and Facebook sell is advertising. So yes, they charge VAT to their customers, which they pay to the government. But their customers are businesses, and so reclaim that VAT from the government, when they do their VAT return.

The advertisers then charge VAT to the companies they work for, who also reclaim it. The music stops with the final customer who isn't VAT rated, and so can't claim the money back. Which is either the consumer or some tiny business earning less than £50k a year.

So VAT is a tax on things that we buy as consumers.

As I understand it, the US sales tax is only charge by retailers selling to consumers. So business to business transactions aren't subject to it. So it operates a lot more simply than a VAT system, but has roughly the same effect.

Corporation Tax is a levy on profits that companies make.

Turnover taxes and transaction taxes are another thing entirely. They have the highest distorting effect on the economy. The usual rule of thumb is that if you tax something, you get less of it. So if you tax economic transactions, you'll get less of them. Which almost by definition will shrink the size of your economy.

The EU stopped its financial transaction tax, because the Commission's research determined that it would shrink the economy so much that other tax revenues would fall more than the revenue raised by the tax. So it would earn negative money for governments and permanently shrink the economy. A tax on non-financial transactions would almost certainly be worse.

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Re: Sales Tax

"I don't understand why the governments don't levy a sales tax in each country, very much like VAT, to be collected on any and every purchase of goods and services."

I think the government in 'each country' might object...

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Re: Sales Tax

> I don't understand why the governments don't levy a sales tax in each country

They do - VAT, excise duty, purchase tax, ...

> It is simply wrong that the internet giants don't pay their share

Their share of what, exactly? That is the nub of the question. They are taxed, and in general pay up pretty much in accordance with the applicable law. The politicians are whinging about it because those companies are easy to target as scapegoats, when the problem is stupid tax regimes agreed by stupid politicians.

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Re: Sales Tax

>The EU stopped its financial transaction tax, because the Commission's research determined that it would shrink the economy so much that other tax revenues would fall more than the revenue raised by the tax.

I would very much like to see this 'research'.

The EU gave up on the Toibin Tax because they were lobbied to death against it. It's still a viable idea - which would probably benefit us all, if implemented carefully. We're talking about tiny nibbles, out of many, many pots.

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Re: Sales Tax

"So it operates a lot more simply than a VAT system, but has roughly the same effect."

It's also far more vulnerable to tax fraud and evasion.

If VAT is paid and reclaimed at each step along the way (and vat for business services tend to be the same rate, none of this 5% stuff), then each business pays the goverment the difference between the VAT it's collected and the VAT it's paid - which is far smaller than the VAT on any given item.

The result is that if a company goes under or engages in VAT fraud, or sells its products to an enduser at wholesale level, taxes still get paid and the government isn't left out of pocket

In countries with sales tax only on consumer sales, buying from a wholesaler is frequently difficult because they don't want the hassle and sometimes impossible without a state-issued permit, that has the effect of increasing the overall costs of collecting tax. VAT reduces compliance and collection costs.

Yes, carousel fraud is a problem, but it was a problem under the old system too. the values of such frauds are generally small pickings as whenever you have more than 2 people in a conspiracy someone blabs eventually.

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Anonymous Coward

pay tax where their real economic activity is taking place

oh, I thought it's all "in the cloud", no? And the cloud is powered from a sunny island far, far away?

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Re: pay tax where their real economic activity is taking place

Well Google have many server farms. So that's some of their economic activity. But most of it would probably be where they design the services - plus where they sell advertising.

You can't have the advertising without the search. You know that thing everyone hates Starbucks for, where they offset their UK profit against their brand - held someowhere sunny? Well Google should do that, but the sunny place would be Silicon Valley. That's where most of their value is generated - so they should probably pay the majority of their corp taxes in California. We need new international accounting conventions to work this out.

Apple, similarly, are a California design company. They don't really manufacture much, they buy stuff in, it's just made to their spec. So a large chunk of their profits should probably accrue to California.

Vertically intergrated companies make it harder to work out. If Apple were a retail company, who bought their iPhones from manufacturers in China and sold them at Apple shops, then the manufacturer would pay its corp tax in China and Apple would pay where their stores were. But they're effectively manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer. So there's an argument to say all the profit goes to Cupertino. Or you could make them account for each divsion separately for tax purposes, and have UK Retail pay HQ a notional price for stuff, and pay UK corp tax on its notional profits.

There is no perfect answer to this. Accounting at this level is as much art as science. And that's not a veiled dig. I've been peripherally involved with international corporate accounting, and it's not the same as doing your personal taxes or even accounts for a simple £1m turnover company. There are no right answers. Even if you're 100% honest, and trying to pay your fair share of taxes across jurisdictions, there's no perfect way to do it.

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Re: pay tax where their real economic activity is taking place

"We need new international accounting conventions to work this out."

Never going to happen. (Thank god.)

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Re: pay tax where their real economic activity is taking place

>Silicon Valley. That's where most of their value is generated

That's bollocks. Their 'stuff' may be created in SV - but their 'value' comes from their 'customers' (who are the product, in this transaction).

If we all refused to allow our data to be gobbled (or fed them with fake data), that SV stuff would be worth precisely zero.

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Free Trade works when there is a level playing field.

In Europe a company can base itself where there are the lowest taxes, and is not further taxed by selling to other european countries (a flaw in the single market).

The same flaw applies when there are free trade agreements that cross to other countries that do not account for the tax regimes properly.

Now with physical goods you (normally) apply import tarrifs/custom charges at the border to account for the differences in tax regimes, and allow domestic players to compete fairly with international players that have lower costs.

Surely the way to fix this is to apply an "import tax" to digital goods sold by non-domestic companies (regardless of the domain name they put in their website, with this tax variable depending upon the tax regime of the parent company's country) If they choose to base a company domestically that's fine, but profits can only be shifted overseas by paying a profit transfer tax equivalent to corporation tax. Obviously any purchases the domestic company makes from the parent need to be taxed at the import tax too to prevent avoidance of this tax. (Eg "Brand licensing", "loan interest", "coffee beans")

So the likes of google have the choice

1) Have a UK subsidiary. Pay only domestic taxes, but ANYTHING they transfer to the parent company is taxed.

2) Be based internationally. An import tax applies to all sales, digital or not. This tax should level the playing field.

Fixing low tax bases within the European single market is a separate issue. Really its a flaw in the whole single market concept, so unless you force corporation tax to be normalised you'll need some sort of compensation tax paid to every other country in the single market that you do business (presumably based on the percentage of business done in that country * the corporation tax difference in that country)

OK realise thats not all that simple, but surely cleverer economic minds than mine can sort something!

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