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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.


Research Projects 


Cross-border taxation of services in the context of the UN Model

The tax treatment of services has been a priority issue of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation for a number of years. Nevertheless, since the creation, in its Fourth Session (2008), of the Subcommittee on Article 14 and Services, the introduction of a new and revolutionary approach to cross-border taxation of services has been gradually taking shape culminating in the recent proposal, presented in the Tenth Session of the Committee (2014), for the introduction of a new article on services in the UN Model tax Convention.


The object of the project is not the analysis of the very article and its proposed Commentary but rather the consideration of its pros and cons as compared to other traditional or new-style approaches to the taxation of cross-border services (Services PE, Services related to Royalties or Intra-group services approach). This comparative methodology enables: a) Taking into account certain sensitivities of Members of the Committee and Commentators as related to the original proposal and providing additional background for the eventual introduction of an alternative provision in the Model; b) Offering developing countries a clear guidance on the effects and alternatives of the current proposal as compared to traditional solutions. c) Considering the gradual withdrawal of the OECD and the UN Model as refers taxation of services and the potential influence of the UN Project and final outcomes of BEPS Action 1 (Digital Economy) in an eventual (re)rapprochement.


Flexible Multi-Tier Dispute Resolution in International Tax Disputes

Postdoctoral researcher in charge: Dr Diana van Hout


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. 

In the field of (Alternative) Dispute Resolution there is already a lot of academic research available. Recent perspectives show that there is no “universal conflict resolution theory” or one system that is applicable to all kind of disputes. Therefore we designed a Flexible Multi-Tier Dispute Resolution for international tax disputes which can offer a full panoply of dispute resolution processes. The tiers of this system involve: the prevention of disputes, dealing with disputes and using the assistance of third persons to deal with disputes. In order to extend and to develop this pluralistic dispute resolution system, we first research the most import existing dispute resolution procedures in domestic tax law. Naturally, we also analyze whether these procedures are effective or not. With this inventory, we are able to initiate and carry out further future research in time. In the second part of our research we concentrate more specific on mediation as one part of this broader system of dispute resolution. The OECD’s Manual on Effective Mutual Agreement Procedures already suggests mediation as an opportunity to improve the MAP process and some tax treaties took over this suggestion as part of the MAP but in practice these procedures are hardly used. 
One of the difficulties of mediation is that there is no comprehensive idea about what mediation is, how mediation should be implemented or how mediation should be initiated. Therefore in this research we try to develop a best practice for mediation, at least aiming to formulate a comprehensive definition about mediation and how it could be implemented in a MAP. The purpose of this research is to provide recommendations about the implementation of mediation in order to improve the MAP and to design a best practice that can be based on the results of research in purely domestic situations and what is already available in the international field e.g. at the ICC and WTO. This means that this research will concentrate on the most important requirements for mediation in international tax cases aiming to improve the efficiency of the MAP. Finally we would like to see whether mediation can also improve the position of taxpayers and provide the opportunity for taxpayers to participate directly in the outcome of the MAP. 

Taxation and Digital Innovation

The Research team is composed of: Prof. Dr Robert Danon, University of Lausanne (Switzerland), Prof. Dr Pasquale Pistone, IBFD (Netherlands), Prof. Dr Guglielmo Maisto, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy), Prof. Dr Bettina Kahil-Wolff, Institut du droit des assurances et du travail (Switzerland), Dr Vikram Chand, University of Lausanne (Switzerland), Dr Alessandro Turina, University of Lausanne and IBFD (Switzerland and Netherlands) and Ms Lisa Spinosa, University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Additional experts will also join the project with the view of setting up an international observatory on the tax implications of the digital economy.
IBFD and the Tax Policy Center of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, are launching a joint research project investigating the impact of digital innovation on domestic and international tax policy.

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

IBFD Postdoctoral research fellow in charge: Dr Antti Laukkanen

Research partners (apart from IBFD): Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Lodz, University of Vigo, USLA Ekaterinburg, Fudan University in Shanghai, University of Cape Town, University of Michigan Law School, IBDT in Brazil, ICDT in Colombia and Universidad de la República in Uruguay. A tax professional provides information from Turkey.

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.


IBFD provides the scope, framework and control of the study.