Recently, we published a Special Report in Tax Notes International, “Preparing for a Tsunami of International Tax Disputes.” The article can be accessed here. While there is near-universal agreement that the number of tax disputes is going to increase, existing international tax dispute resolution processes remain in serious need of improvement. A global consensus must be reached on a process for resolving worldwide tax disputes that appeals to all stakeholders. This article focuses on recent attempts by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), United Nations (UN) and international tax community to achieve such a consensus.

In short, the predictability of tax base results is a serious concern for countries and multi-national enterprises alike. The only realistic solution is to design a dependable and independent treaty-based dispute resolution process that accommodates the needs of all stakeholders. A foundation for this process has been provided by the inclusion of arbitration in both the OECD and UN model income tax treaties and its successful implementation in a few countries. Arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) have already evolved successfully in nontax government and commercial contexts. As with any such evolution, there have been both positive and negative experiences for countries and private parties. In the realm of international taxation, the development of these processes is in the early stages. It is important for all stakeholders in the tax arena to explore ways of using experiences from non-tax contexts to develop processes that can relieve emerging pressures relating to international taxation. To distinguish the international tax context from others, the new dispute resolution process could be referred to as the International Taxation Dispute Resolution Process (ITDRP), as suggested in the UN Secretariat Paper on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Taxation released on October 8, 2015.

While the development of a successful ITDRP will inevitably take time and will no doubt be contentious, significant advancements have been made in the past few months that suggest it could soon be on the horizon. These include the initial Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) paper on dispute resolution, the January 2015 Dispute Resolution Conference in Vienna, the OECD Action 14 Final Report (released in October 2015) and the UN Secretariat ADR Paper.

Almost all stakeholders in the international taxation community agree that: (i) the number of disputes will increase; (ii) existing dispute resolution processes are in serious need of improvement; and (iii) a global consensus must be achieved so that global tax disputes can be resolved in a way that serves the interests of all stakeholders. In this regard, it may be fortunate for the tax community that it is arriving late to the ADR processes that have evolved in other areas over the past century. As the OECD and UN processes continue to evolve, it is hoped that lessons from these other areas can be drawn upon to develop an ITDRP that serves the interests of all parties.