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Friday, June 7, 2013

French Task Force Report on Taxation of the Digital Economy

In January 2013, a task force commissioned by the French Finance Ministry, released a "thinking outside of the box" report on new suggestions for taxation in the digital era. This 188 page report was only recently translated into English. Co-author of the report, Nicolas Colin, has allowed me to post this English version on my blog - here.  You may have seen Mr. Colin's summary of the report he posted on Forbes blog in January 2013 ("Corporate Tax 2.0: Why France and the World Need a New Tax System for the Digital Age").

I'm still reading through the English report, but wanted to share an introduction to the report now. I refer to the report as "out-of-the-box" thinking because the authors raise some points that I have not heard discussed elsewhere. Also, an economic shift, such as from the industrial era into the digital or knowledge era, should lead to some rethinking of tax systems - are they are in need of modernization (hence the title of my blog - 21st century taxation).  When we have bits and bytes moving across borders, perhaps the tax rules need to be different from the existing ones focused on moving widgets across borders.

I think the report will lead to a broader discussion of what international taxation should look like today.  Certainly, there is a lot of discussion going on regarding this topic in Congress and the OECD.  For example, Congressman Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has a proposal to move to a territorial system. In February 2013, the OECD issues its BEPS report (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) which should get further discussion by the G-20.

Well, back to the French report ... Three key themes/ideas:
  •  Today, some companies, such as Google, can gather lots of data from citizens and companies in a country, but do not have tax liabilities there, even though it looks like they are at least virtually present. So, consider redefining permanent establishment for the digital age. Perhaps places where data is generated for use by the company should be a PE.
  • Alternatively or prior to a PE change, consider a Pigovian tax on use of resident’s data if the company does not “comply with stronger privacy and user empowerment requirements” (aim is also to encourage the company to so comply so they won’t owe the tax).
  • Reform R&D tax rules and definitions to better focus on the digital economy and its growth.
I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Colin in October 2012 when he visited Silicon Valley to meet with people to discuss his ideas and learn more about the digital economy from perspectives of folks here. We had a very enjoyable discussion.  And it helped me think of a few tax ideas to explore. Be sure to see Annex 2 of the report for a long list of people the authors consulted with including the tax director of Google.

I encourage you to review the report. It addresses issues that we will likely hear more about from Congress and the OECD and that are important for reform of the U.S. tax system.

What do you think? Any "out of the box" ideas you have for a sound tax system for the digital era?


1 comment:

Christopher Harrington said...

Great post! My coworker and I were were discussing this topic this morning. Thanks for the useful information!