Tough new global rules could cost Ireland billions of euro in corporation tax revenues
Ireland faces losing billions in company tax revenues every year if tough new global rules are implemented.
Proposals from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) establish for the first time a "nexus rule" that says a company is taxable in a market when its sales exceed a certain level there.
At present, many tech companies use low-tax countries like Ireland to book large parts of their profits.
This has boosted the Government's tax take here, but had the effect of hitting revenues for other countries.
The new rules will be discussed at the upcoming International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings and then by the 130-plus countries involved in the OECD consultation group.
They still have a long way to go before they are agreed, and before the amounts of tax to be levied are set. However, it could have a major impact on tax revenues for Ireland.
"The system is under stress and will not survive if we don't remove the tensions," OECD head of tax policy Pascal Saint-Amans said. "Our approach is a very tentative draft."
The companies affected would be multinationals that sell goods and services across borders, and the OECD suggested they should have a minimum revenue of €750m.
However, in a key concession to the United States, the scope of the proposals is wider than digital giants such as Facebook and also includes large consumer firms.
The OECD itself has said that up to $240bn (€219bn) a year is lost in tax from profit-shifting by corporations. Depending on how tough the new tax rules are and their scope, they could cost the exchequer here billions of euro.
Earlier this year, Erik de Vrijer, an official at the IMF who oversees its assessments of the Irish economy, said the State could lose between €1.5bn and €3bn in company tax revenues out of around €10bn a year.
The proposals could fail if any of the large economies such as the US or France, or among developing nations, India, refuse to sign up.
The incentive for countries, including Ireland, to agree is that if this attempt fails, individual nations will impose their own sales taxes, leading to a free-for-all that could be much more damaging.
Even if there is an agreement, it will probably take years for the tax rules to be put on the statute books.
It is the risk of unilateral action that pushed Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to back the OECD consultation earlier this year after the US threw its weight behind the proposals.
In its assessment of risks to the 2020 Budget that was presented on Tuesday, the Department of Finance highlighted dangers to the country's corporate tax revenues.
"As a small exporting economy, any potential changes under this proposal would likely have an impact on Ireland's corporation tax revenue," the department said.
"However, global agreement on new tax rules would provide certainty and stability for the international tax landscape into the medium term."
The department is to publish its own assessment of the risks from tax changes next year, but it said on Tuesday that if corporate tax receipts went back to the levels of 2014, the loss would be €2bn a year.
If, however, growth levels in company taxes moved in line with the performance of the domestic economy, rather than the international economy, the loss to the Exchequer would be €1bn a year, it said.
The proposals will run in parallel with a consultation on an internationally agreed minimum corporate tax rate that companies cannot avoid.
"It is in the interest of all countries that this work is successful at ensuring the continuation of a stable and consensus-based international tax framework into the future," the Department of Finance said.