No. 89: Towards an amended arm’s length principle – Tackling complexity and implementing destination rules in transfer pricing

Year: 2022
Type: Working Paper
Open Science:


The arm’s length principle (ALP) is the cornerstone of multinational enterprises’ (MNEs) profit taxation. However, despite extensive improvements by the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project, two aspects of the ALP has been widely criticized. First, market jurisdictions where multinational enterprises serve their customers have little access to the MNEs’ profits because there is often no place of supply for tax purposes or, if there is, the profits reported there are very low. This reduces the perceived fairness of profit allocations and the acceptance of rules by taxpayers and jurisdictions. Second, the rules governing the ALP have continuously become more complex and difficult to implement. Whereas the first point of criticism will presumably be addressed by Pillar One, the second has not yet been dealt with and is even more exacerbated by the BEPS Project. The authors suggest amending the ALP by attempting to effectively focus on its complexity and implementing destination rules. The former can be achieved with a reduction of functional analyses and information requirements as well as a standardization of margins reduces complexity while the latter target the allocation of MNEs’ profits to market jurisdictions which they have in common with Pillar One. However, in contrast to Pillar One that rests on a multilateral agreement, the amended ALP is embedded in a bilateral context (usually a double tax agreement and underlying transfer pricing guidelines). Keeping the bilateral character significantly reduces conflicts of interest between jurisdictions, simplifies tax enforcement, and offers important benefits for dispute resolution. This is assumed to increase the perceived fairness of profit allocations and acceptance of the ALP. A stylized example is used to demonstrate how the amended ALP can be applied.

Participating Institutions

TRR 266‘s main locations are Paderborn University (Coordinating University), HU Berlin, and University of Mannheim. All three locations have been centers for accounting and tax research for many years. They are joined by researchers from LMU Munich, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Goethe University Frankfurt, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management and University of Cologne who share the same research agenda.

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