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Firms, Trade and Profit Shifting: Evidence from Aggregate Data


  • Sébastien Laffitte
  • Farid Toubal


Using aggregate data on U.S. multinational firms’ activities, we document the impact of tax havens on the organization and trade of multinational firms. Conventional wisdom says that MNEs set up foreign sales platforms close to large markets to benefit from the proximity to consumers. We show, both theoretically and empirically, that the tax environment plays an important role in explaining the location of the foreign sales platforms. We document that foreign sales platforms in tax havens fuel profit shifting especially in services industries. We shed lights on the attractiveness of different tax havens for distinctive sectoral activities. The back-of-the-envelope computation shows that profit shifting by foreign sales platforms in tax haven amounts to $83bn in 2013.

Suggested Citation

  • Sébastien Laffitte & Farid Toubal, 2018. "Firms, Trade and Profit Shifting: Evidence from Aggregate Data," CESifo Working Paper Series 7171, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_7171

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Katarzyna Bilicka & Clemens Fuest, 2014. "With which countries do tax havens share information?," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 21(2), pages 175-197, April.
    2. 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).
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    4. Dowd, Tim & Landefeld, Paul & Moore, Anne, 2017. "Profit shifting of U.S. multinationals," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 1-13.
    5. Anna Gumpert & James R. Hines Jr. & Monika Schnitzer, 2016. "Multinational Firms and Tax Havens," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(4), pages 713-727, October.
    6. Javier Garcia-Bernardo & Jan Fichtner & Eelke M. Heemskerk & Frank W. Takes, 2017. "Uncovering Offshore Financial Centers: Conduits and Sinks in the Global Corporate Ownership Network," Papers 1703.03016,, revised May 2017.
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    Cited by:

    1. Flach, Lisandra & Irlacher, Michael & Unger, Florian, 2021. "Corporate taxes and multi-product exporters: Theory and evidence from trade dynamics," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C).
    2. Arnt Ove Hopland & Petro Lisowsky & Mohammed Mardan & Dirk Schindler, 2021. "Inflexibility in Income Shifting: Implications, Detection and Remedies," CESifo Working Paper Series 9384, CESifo.

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    More about this item


    foreign platforms; tax havens; profit shifting; firms’ organization;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • 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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