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At your service! The role of tax havens in international trade with services

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  • Hebous, Shafik
  • Johannesen, Niels

Abstract

This paper provides the first comprehensive study of profit shifting through service trade inside multinational firms. The analysis employs a unique firm-level dataset with detailed information about service trade and foreign affiliates for virtually all multinational firms in Germany. We find patterns consistent with profit shifting in service categories such as intellectual property (patents and trademarks), headquarter services(administration, management and advertizing), information services(data processing and storage) and financial services (investment, lending and money management). In these service categories, trade with affiliates in tax havens is skewed towards imports and the internal service providers in tax havens earn significant excess profits that vary strongly with the value of their internal service sales. These patterns are suggestive that multinational firms operate tax haven entities that sell overpriced services to affiliates in order to erode their taxable profits and reduce the global tax bill. While total service imports from tax havens are very large, our estimates suggest that Germany’s loss of government revenue from mispriced service imports from tax havens is relatively modest, less than € 1 billion per year.

Suggested Citation

  • Hebous, Shafik & Johannesen, Niels, 2021. "At your service! The role of tax havens in international trade with services," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 135(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:135:y:2021:i:c:s0014292121000908
    DOI: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2021.103737
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    Cited by:

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    2. Menkhoff, Lukas & Miethe, Jakob, 2019. "Tax evasion in new disguise? Examining tax havens' international bank deposits," EconStor Open Access Articles and Book Chapters, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, pages 53-78.
    3. Shafik Hebous & Alexander Klemm & Saila Stausholm, 2020. "Revenue Implications of Destination-Based Cash-Flow Taxation," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 68(4), pages 848-874, December.
    4. Sebastian Beer & Ruud de Mooij & Li Liu, 2020. "International Corporate Tax Avoidance: A Review Of The Channels, Magnitudes, And Blind Spots," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(3), pages 660-688, July.
    5. Shafik Hebous & Alfons J. Weichenrieder & Alfons Weichenrieder, 2015. "What Do We Know about the Tax Planning of German-based Multinational Firms?," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 12(04), pages 15-21, January.
    6. Sébastien Laffitte & Farid Toubal, 2018. "Firms, Trade and Profit Shifting: Evidence from Aggregate Data," CESifo Working Paper Series 7171, CESifo.
    7. Becker, Johannes & Johannesen, Niels & Riedel, Nadine, 2020. "Taxation and the allocation of risk inside the multinational firm," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 183(C).
    8. repec:ces:ifodic:v:12:y:2015:i:4:p:19149984 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Mariana Colacelli & Cyril Rebillard & Deepali Gautam, 2021. "Japan’s Foreign Assets and Liabilities: Implications for the External Accounts," IMF Working Papers 2021/026, International Monetary Fund.
    10. Ludvig Wier & Hayley Reynolds, 2018. "Big and 'unprofitable': How 10 per cent of multinational firms do 98 per cent of profit shifting," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2018-111, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    11. Bui Quang Pierre, & Gigout Timothée. Abstract : Trade in services is playing an increasingly important role in French foreign trade. Between 2000 and 2019, it grew by 156%, twice as fast as trade in g, 2021. "Twenty years of growth in France’s trade in services [Vingt ans d’essor des échanges de services de la France]," Bulletin de la Banque de France, Banque de France, issue 236.
    12. Li Liu & Tim Schmidt-Eisenlohr & Dongxian Guo, 2020. "International Transfer Pricing and Tax Avoidance: Evidence from Linked Trade-Tax Statistics in the United Kingdom," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 102(4), pages 766-778, October.
    13. Johannesen, Niels & Larsen, Dan Thor, 2016. "The power of financial transparency: An event study of country-by-country reporting standards," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 120-122.
    14. Carol Bertaut & Beau Bressler & Stephanie Curcuru, 2020. "Globalisation and the reach of multinationals: implications for portfolio exposures, capital flows, and home bias," IFC Bulletins chapters, in: Bank for International Settlements (ed.), Bridging measurement challenges and analytical needs of external statistics: evolution or revolution?, volume 52, Bank for International Settlements.
    15. Danuse Nerudova & Veronika Solilova & Marek Litzman & Petr Janský, 2020. "International tax planning within the structure of corporate entities owned by the shareholder‐individuals through Panama Papers destinations," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 38(1), pages 124-139, January.
    16. Shafik Hebous & Alfons J. Weichenrieder, 2015. "What Do We Know about the Tax Planning of German-based Multinational Firms?," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 12(4), pages 15-21, 01.
    17. Dongxian Guo & Li Liu & Tim Schmidt-Eisenlohr, 2017. "International Transfer Pricing and Tax Avoidance : Evidence from Linked Trade-Tax Statistics in the UK," International Finance Discussion Papers 1214, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    18. Sébastien Laffitte & Farid Toubal, 2019. "A Fistful of Dollars? Foreign Sales Platforms and Profit Shifting in Tax Havens," Working Papers 2019-02, CEPII research center.
    19. Bodo Knoll & Nadine Riedel, 2020. "Patent Shifing and Anti-Tax Avoidance Legislation," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 17(04), pages 25-29, January.
    20. Thomas R. Tørsløv & Ludvig S. Wier & Gabriel Zucman, 2020. "Externalities in International Tax Enforcement: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 26899, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    21. Carol Bertaut & Beau Bressler & Stephanie E Curcuru, 2019. "Globalization and the geography of capital flows," IFC Bulletins chapters, in: Bank for International Settlements (ed.), Are post-crisis statistical initiatives completed?, volume 49, Bank for International Settlements.
    22. Weichenrieder, Alfons J., 2016. "Panama & Co: Implikationen für die Steuerpolitik," SAFE Policy Letters 52, Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE.
    23. Niels Johannesen & Thomas Tørsløv & Ludvig Wier, 2016. "Are less developed countries more exposed to multinational tax avoidance? Method and evidence from micro-data," WIDER Working Paper Series 010b (Revised version May, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Service trade; Profit shifting; Tax evasion; Tax avoidance; Multinational firms; Tax havens;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade
    • F23 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - Multinational Firms; International Business
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance

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