Taxation of Royalties Ceases Under Estonia-UK Tax Treaty | MN Tax Lawyer

On January 18, 2017, the HM Revenue & Customs announced that the withholding tax on royalties under the 1994 Estonia-UK tax treaty has been eliminated retroactively as of October 16, 2015.

Under the original Estonia-UK tax treaty, the rates had been 5 percent for industrial, commercial, and scientific equipment royalties and 10 percent in other cases. However, paragraph 7 of the Exchange Notes to the Treaty contains the Most Favoured Nation” (MFN) provision relating to royalties (Article 12). Under the MFN provision, UK tax residents only need to pay the lowest tax withholding rate ever agreed by Estonia in a Double-Taxation Treaty (DTA) it later agrees with an OECD member country that was a member when the UK-Estonia tax treaty was signed in 1994.

It turns that Switzerland was an OECD member country in 1994. In 2002, Estonia signed a tax treaty with Switzerland, but the treaty did not impact the UK withholding tax rate at that time. In 2014, however, Estonia and Switzerland signed an amending protocal to the 2002 Estonia-Switzerland tax treaty. Under the protocol, the treaty was revised to provide for only resident state taxation of royalties.

It was this provision in the 2014 protocol to the Estonia-Switzerland tax treaty that triggered the 1994 MFN provision of the Estonia-UK tax treaty. Therefore, when the 2014 protocol entered into force on October 16, 2015, it effectively eliminated tax withholding on royalties not only in Switzerland (wth respect to Estonia), but also in the United Kingdom. While the taxation of royalties under the Estonia-UK tax treaty ceased on October 16, 2015, the HM Revenue & Customs waited for more than a year to announce it on January 18, 2017.

It should be pointed out that MFN provisions, such as the one in Estonia-UK tax treaty, quite often have an important impact throughout the treaty network of a country. This ripple effect of the MFN provisions creates enormous opportunities for international tax planning that is often utilized by international tax lawyers, including US international tax law firms such as Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty Signed | MN International Tax Attorney

On January 16, 2017, the Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty was signed by government officials from both countries – K.C. Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for financial services and the treasury, and Sergei Nalivaiko, Belarusian minister of taxes and duties. Let’s explore the most important provisions of the new Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty.

Elimination of Double-Taxation Under the Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty

The new tax treaty will provide real benefits to businesses and individuals in both countries. In the absence of the treaty, the profits of Hong Kong companies earned through a permanent establishment in Belarus would be taxed in Belarus and Hong Kong. Similarly, prior to the treaty, the income earned by Belarusian companies in Hong Kong would be subject to both, Belarusian and Hong Kong taxation.

The Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty will now eliminate the risk of double taxation by allowing Belarusian companies to claim a tax credit for taxes paid in Hong Kong. Similarly, Hong Kong companies will be able to claim tax credit for taxes paid in Belarus.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty: Taxation of Dividends, Interest and Royalties

The new treaty establishes a 5% maximum tax rate for dividends and interest payments. This is a large reduction from the current highest rate of 13%. Moreover, in certain cases (mainly Hong Kong or Belarusian government-owned entities), dividends and interest are entirely exempt from taxation.

Additionally, under the new treaty, the royalties will generally be taxed also at 5%. However, if the royalties are paid for the use of (or the right to use) aircraft, then the tax withholding rate is further reduced to 3%. Again, this is a major reduction from the current highest rate of 15%.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty: Concessions to Hong Kong Airlines

The special reduction for aircraft-related royalties is a major concession to Hong Kong Airlines, but it is not the only one. Additionally, Belarus agreed that Hong Kong Airlines operating flights to Belarus will be taxed at Hong Kong’s corporation tax rate. Furthermore, the profits from international shipping transport earned by Hong Kong residents that arise in Belarus (and which are currently taxed in Belarus) will now fully escape Belarusian taxation.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty: Other Provisions and Entry into Force

The new treaty contains a number of other provisions regulating taxation of capital gains, pensions, government salaries and other income. Additionally, Article 25 of the treaty provides for exchange of tax-related information between Belarus and Hong Kong. This provision may have an unintended consequence for US tax residents who operate in Belarus and Hong Kong, because some information exchanged between Belarus and Hong Kong may be further provided to the United States under Hong Kong’s FATCA tax information exchange obligations.

The Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty will enter into force once both sides complete their own ratification procedures.