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Academic Research

In this section you can find information regarding the research projects that are currently being developed by IBFD academic (comprising both internal and collaborative research projects).

In addition to these research projects, IBFD Academic continues to actively participate in key research meetings around the world in several other topics. In line with our mission, this allows us to provide our audiences with the most recent findings and developments in international taxation.


Lines of Research

Taxation and the Digital Economy

  • PE, including the attribution of income.
  • Short-term solutions (Withholding taxes, DST).
  • Compatibility of new levies on the digital economy with EU law, WTO and tax treaties.
  • Selected digital markets: cryptocurrencies, blockchain and sharing economy.

International Tax Justice

  • Tax incentives in the international scene.
  • Special tax zones.
  • Tax transparency.
  • Multilateralism in international taxation.

Abusive and Aggressive Tax Planning

  • OECD actions (follow-up to BEPS, including peer-review and implementation in developing countries).
  • EU actions (ATAD and related initiatives affecting the internal market and relations with third countries).
  • BRICS and developing countries responses to abusive and aggressive tax planning schemes.

The Global Dimension of the Protection of Taxpayers’ Rights

  • Observatory on the Practical Protection of Taxpayers’ Rights.
  • Mediation, arbitration and settlement of disputes in cross-border tax matters.
  • OECD actions and their relationship with taxpayers’ rights.

Research Projects

Flexible Multi-Tier Dispute Resolution in International Tax Disputes


Nowadays there is a global trend towards an increasing number of international tax disputes. On 23 November 2015 the OECD reported statistics regarding the number of outstanding Mutual Agreement Procedures (hereinafter: MAP) of its member states. These statistics reveal an increase of a MAP caseload of 130.57% compared to the reported period of 2006 until 2014. The OECD also noted that the actions to counter the BEPS are likely to give rise to new rules, new interpretations problems and therefore a higher risk of double taxation. A higher risk of double taxation means even more tax cross-border disputes which can jeopardize cross-border trade, foreign investment and economic growth. To counter an excessive growth of international tax disputes it is utmost important to improve the current international dispute resolution procedures.


In international tax disputes the main difficulty is that the disputes have to be resolved between states. The sovereignty of states excludes the possibility of a single judiciary to decide over the case. Moreover in cross-border tax disputes there are two jurisdictions involved and it involves at least three parties: the two contracting states and the taxpayer. In some disputes like transfer pricing cases between related companies there are even more parties involved: at least two contracting states and at least two taxpayers (likely a parent company and its subsidiary). Thus, it is difficult to implement (mandatory) arbitration in international taxation, although some OECD countries already declared their commitment to this solution. Nonetheless, we feel that other types of dispute resolution such as Alternative Dispute Resolution (hereinafter: ADR) should be researched and explored as well. ADR offers various opportunities to maintain the autonomy of all disputing parties, including the taxpayer. 

Taxation and Digital Innovation

Within the framework of the OECD/G20 Project on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), the international tax implications of the digital economy were highlighted as a key area of intervention. BEPS Action 1 identified the challenges raised from a tax policy perspective both in the area of direct and indirect taxation. This work is currently ongoing, with an interim report expected in 2018 and a final report scheduled for 2020.

Some direct tax policy challenges have already been addressed through the BEPS action plan. Moreover, international guidelines on VAT/GST can also be mentioned as progress in this area.

However, more fundamental policy challenges remain regarding inter alia the characterization, valuation and localization of digital transactions. Recent unilateral actions taken by some countries to address these challenges stress the need to promote coordinated responses in this area. Finally, digital innovation raises unforeseen challenges, such as the question of whether and how value created through artificial intelligence should be taxed.

The research project is driven by a realistic and holistic approach: finding policy options that would lead to a feasible change to domestic and international tax rules and could be realistically implemented in an efficient, fair and administrable way.

The project will advocate coordinated and multilateral solutions, with the view to avoiding unilateral responses that may constitute dangerous precedents and result in inconsistent and inadequate outcomes.

Special Tax Zones

The concept Special Tax Zone (STZ) is used for very different kind of areas where tax regulations are more beneficial than in the generally applicable tax system of the surrounding jurisdiction or country. Special tax zones may be free trade zones (FTZ) within a certain economic development zone, such as the FTZ within Madeira’s special regime or the FTZs within the numerous economic development zones in China, or they may be called enterprise zones, free economic zones, free zones, tax-free zones, or similar. STZs may provide zero or low tax rates for corporate income tax, VAT or excise tax. The tax incentives may also be tax holidays, accelerated depreciation or incentives for research and development. These benefits are often limited for a certain period of time. Compared to pure tax havens, STZs rather intend to increase the well-being within the zone and the surrounding jurisdiction than provide tax advantages for foreign mailbox companies.  


STZs are popular especially in developing countries. Increasing pressure from the OECD, the European Union and single countries on profit shifting and tax base erosion along with tax haven considerations (as well as claims of distortion from domestic non-STZ companies) may have an impact on the future of the STZ tax benefits. This collaborative study aims to obtain a structured view on selected STZs, their tax incentives and practices, their acceptability, possibly classify the zones, and provide recommendations on the practices and tax issues for the STZ residence countries as well as for multinational enterprises, the OECD and the European Union.