The Status of the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines in the Post-BEPS Dynamic

Despite the vast literature on the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and Tax Administrations (OECD Guidelines), its status has received little consideration. The image in the literature is that the OECD Guidelines is a significant publication, given the substantial cross-border trade between associated enterprises. In the OECD/G20 BEPS Project, the Final Report on Actions 8-10, published in 2015, revised the OECD Guidelines as part of the sweeping measures to counter aggressive tax avoidance by certain multinational enterprises (MNEs), such as Google LLC, Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. BEPS Actions 8-10, inter alia, revised the guidance on intangibles and cost contribution arrangements to prevent profits from intangibles being allocated to low-tax jurisdictions. As anticipated, the OECD has reported that transfer pricing disputes are rising. In particular, BEPS Action 14, on dispute resolution, requires tax treaties to include article 9(2) of the OECD Model Tax Convention, on corresponding transfer pricing adjustments, in tax treaties. Moreover, BEPS Action 14 (element 1.1 of the minimum standard) requires that access to the mutual agreement procedure be available for transfer pricing cases in tax treaties and that countries implement the resulting mutual agreements. As a minimum standard, members of the Inclusive Framework are obliged to implement this measure, which further elevates the status of the OECD Guidelines, as resulting disputes will be resolved on the basis of the principles in the OECD Guidelines. The membership of the Inclusive Framework exceeds 135 countries. As there is a dearth of transfer pricing case law, the consequence is that courts have only established limited jurisprudence on the topic. One Australian transfer pricing case concluded that the OECD Guidelines had no formal status in treaty interpretation. It is asserted in this article that the OECD Guidelines is part of the Commentary accompanying the OECD Model Convention on Income and on Capital. Even so, it is argued that treaty countries should not only use the OECD Guidelines as a guidance document in their domestic rules, but expressly state in their tax treaties that the OECD Guidelines are to be used for the interpretation of the associated enterprises article. In addition, the treaty statement should specify whether the static or ambulatory approach should be applied. This article asserts that the best way forward is for the OECD to illuminate the status of the OECD Guidelines by including a clear statement in the Commentary on the intrinsic character of the OECD Guidelines and expressly identify which parts of the OECD Guidelines form part of the Commentary, adapting the approach taken in the Commentary on the business profits article incorporating the 2010 Report on the Attribution of Permanent Establishments.