The Role of Tax Treaties in Facilitating Development and Protecting the Tax Base

203 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2014

See all articles by Michael Lang

Michael Lang

Vienna University of Economics and Business

Jeffrey P. Owens

Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law

Date Written: 2014


The amount of taxes paid by multinational enterprises (MNEs) in host and home countries continues to make headline news. Corporate tax regimes, particularly those in many OECD countries, have never been more complex and the competition to attract and retain foreign direct investment (FDI) has perhaps never been so great. All of these political, legal, economic and competitive realities face countries at a time when they need additional budget revenues.

At the June 2012 G-20 Summit in Los Cabos, leaders identified base erosion and profit shifting as key fiscal issue to be addressed. Many are expecting this to translate into a new approach to applying existing international tax standards, an increased pressure to eliminate “corporate tax breaks,” enact tougher anti-abuse provisions, and less tolerance of aggressive tax planning.

There has been an increased critical focus on transfer pricing, corporate restructuring and double tax treaties. Some have suggested that double tax treaties are eroding the domestic tax bases of developing countries, while others conclude that double tax treaties promote development and FDI and thereby expand the tax base. Dividing up a “revenue pie” has never been easy and the implementation of international tax rules to transparently and predictably allocate revenue to avoid double taxation and double non taxation has never been more adversarial between taxpayers and tax authorities and between tax jurisdictions.

It was for these reasons that the Global Tax Policy Center of the Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC) decided to undertake this study. The objective of our study was to look at the development impact of double taxation treaties and, more broadly, how tax policy can help generate economic growth and prosperity. Legally domestic tax laws are normally subordinate to international double taxation treaties, but in reality a double tax treaty only serves a country as well as its domestic tax regime.

We’ve concluded that the problems affecting developing countries lie not with double tax treaties but rather in weak domestic tax legislation. Our study reviews empirical data from 20 developing countries, including LDCs, middle-to-high income developing countries, resource-rich countries, and BRIICS countries.

We hope that the empirical analysis and the conclusions that can be drawn from it can help guide policymakers to refocus their policy objectives to boost capital formation, expanding exports, and protect their domestic tax bases. We believe that a country with strong domestic tax legislation can advance their pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals by affectively utilizing double tax treaties and the related international tax rules to more transparently share and grow their tax base.

Suggested Citation

Lang, Michael and Owens, Jeffrey P., The Role of Tax Treaties in Facilitating Development and Protecting the Tax Base (2014). WU International Taxation Research Paper Series No. 2014 - 03, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Lang (Contact Author)

Vienna University of Economics and Business ( email )

Welthandelsplatz 1
Vienna, 1020

Jeffrey P. Owens

Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law ( email )

Althanstrasse 39-45
A-1090 Wien

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