back to article Google, Apple, eBay shouldn't pay taxes - people should pay taxes

eBay is not paying enough tax in the UK because it sells everything through PayPal Luxembourg. So the Sunday papers tell us, adding to the stream of stories about how Starbucks ain't payin' enough tax, Google ain't, Apple isn't and... well, we're being taken to the cleaners as a nation, aren't we? We provide this lovely country …

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Re: Following the 'Duck Theory' ...

"International companies often sell through the in-country office but "drop ship" equipment directly to the customer directly from a company's branch in another country.

The UK should designate all such pseudo sales as taxable - both from a Duty and Corporate tax viewpoint."

It could be done, sure. It's just that we've some 110 double taxation treaties with other countries. All of which insist that drop shipping, even the ownership of warehouses and logistics chains, do not give rise to local taxation of profits.

Even the standard OECD recommended such treaty insists the same. So we could indeed change the rules. But it would be an awful lot of hard work. And, of course, the UK currently gets the tax from all those UK companies that do the same in other countries.

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Gold badge

Well.... no

First off, 100% correct, there's no tax evasion here, having free trade within the EU does have it's consequences, and one is that companies can operate out of whatever country has the best tax code.

The problems I see with this elimination of corporate taxes here in the US are:

1) You have here these investment firms, that rather than doing legitimate investment will use high frequency trading to put themselves between the legitimate seller and buyer and take a cut that they aren't really owed. The least they can do is keep paying taxes on this ill-gotten gain. They also must be within a matter of miles of the trading floor since they require very low latency. There's private equity firms, too, which buy companies not to rehabilitate and streamline them, but to max out the purchased company's credit lines, pay themselves loads of money while they brankrupt the company and screw over all those who loaned the company money. They should at least pay tax on this too. Businesses here get all kinds of services (FDIC; dairy, beef, and pork companies getting tax-paid advertisements, the list goes on and on), they can bloody well pay for them.

2) These same companies who don't want to pay taxes, have had no problems accepting bailouts and asking for various credits. I feel like, at least here in the states, if corporate taxes were eliminated they would "forget" to eliminate the credits and various payouts to corporations, rather than leaving the value at 0.

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FAIL

So you're saying their tax bills should be paid by their workers?

Obviously you're not an employer...

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Alert

In the UK, a good chunk of the personal tax bill is already paid by the employer. Years ago politicians worked out that this was a sweet way to ensure that the average employee has no clue the government has already taken its shovel to your paycheck, even before you see the headline number on your slip (from which further tax is taken out).

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Anonymous Coward

it angle?

Professional apologist for the grotesquely rich?

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i never

so much bull in on article in my life. Companies should be forced to pay taxes on every product that end up in a country. price should be made uniform by LAW (every single human on the planet pay the same price no matter where he live). Companies guilty of trying to avoid taxes should be instantly shutdown planet wide. Any company breaking the rule for any reason is instantly shutdown and it's owner executed on the spot. this is how you get greedy corporate inline.

ho wait....... tie mean every oil company in the world is doomed.

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Anonymous Coward

This article is so full of half truths it's hard to know where to begin.

But the authors agenda is crystal clear when he says: "Yes, corporations are legal people, this is true, but this is so that they can be sued and we like being able to sue companies."

Companies exploit corporate law so that heads of the companies CANNOT be sued; the whole idea is that (even if they are engaged in gross and criminal activities) only the company can be sued.

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"This article is so full of half truths it's hard to know where to begin."

And your qualifications to assess this are? You're an expert in JavaScript hacking? You read the Guardian?

I forgot, your lazy received opinions entailing less than ten seconds of thought are more valid than the collective lifetimes of people with genuine intellect and expertise.

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Anonymous Coward

CT (Corporation Tax) is a useless tax

Our company has a local competitor who shoves all it's sales through an agent in Luxembourg who takes 25% commission on sales. The servers we understand are not in Luxembourg but Germany.

Because they pay less tax they can sell a very similar service to ourselves at overall lower costs as taxable UK profits are reduced due to the commission. The money if needed back in the UK is loaned through various vehicles back to the original company.

This company is a national company - we are not, so cannot afford the £1m setup costs, they can even pay their staff more per hour than we can afford too due to the overall lower cost structure..

CT is an outdated tax.

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WTF?

Apple, Luxembourg- don't think so...

"Apple sells the iTunes stuff in from Luxembourg". if this were the case then UK iTunes customers would be paying 15% VAT and not the 23% Irish VAT. Itunes customers pay higher VAT to subsidise Apple's low corporation taxes in Ireland.

Strangely google manages to charge UK vat to UK customers even though their servers are in Ireland as well

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FAIL

Re: Apple, Luxembourg- don't think so...

Because you pay VAT in the country where you make a purchase. That's just the way it works.

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Meh

I run a company

I'm pretty sure my company pays taxes. Perhaps I should stop doing so and then refer HMRC to this article.

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Re: I run a company

"I'm pretty sure my company pays taxes."

I'm pretty sure it wires the VAT every quarter to the Revenue too. So why are customers paying higher prices if your company is paying the VAT?

Then again, I'm pretty sure you're an idiot who didn't read the article and doesn't know what the word "burden" means.

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Re: I run a company

The article was speaking in relative terms. What it was pointing out was that if you didn't pay CT in your profits, sooner or later you'd pay personal rates on it. And if you held it until you died, then you'd cop inheritance tax which is even worse. However it was also point out that if you were allowed to keep a bit more of your profit you could decide to spend it on employees instead, whereas as it stands the government will relieve you of your job creation capacity and spend it on something else instead.

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Happy

Free hands

Not at all sure I agree with the article, but one thing that it is made me do has to think about the subject. Seems like that is the last thing economic arguments do these days, which is a shame. Thanks for something that is actually thought provoking. Off now to look up stuff. And an especial thanks for the Adam Smith "free hand" information. Am going to get down and pedantic with that! ["Who would believe me now that my hands are free, that my hands are free?" Gentle Giant ;-) ]

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Anonymous Coward

Sensible talk, I always thought corporation tax was too high!

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Lots of small companies much better than a few big

Dont put all your eggs in one basket.

It the mega corps dont want to help our country and pay their morally fair share of tax , let them go. They can be replaced by a few thousand smaller companies that wont hold us all to ransom.

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Re: Lots of small companies much better than a few big

That's just it, they will go. And then the only taxes you'll have left will be import duties and sales taxes, and the jobs will have been created overseas.

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Holmes

Lies, damned lies, and economic theory

The problem with economics is that it's not a hard science, or even a social science. It's a bunch of ideas, some of which may appear to be backed up by evidence. Hence, sentences like this:

"With respect to the incidence of corporation tax, we have known since 1899 (when Seligman first pointed it out) that the company itself does not ultimately carry that burden."

are putting the cart before the horse. One does not simply "point out" the truth of one's ideas. One might argue them; one might even have some figures to back them up (although I'd hope that when accepting economic theories as timelessly true one might look for data more recent than 1899); but one does not simply "point them out". This sentence is merely appeal to authority in disguise, and the author invites us to assume that no one has ever substantively argued against this point; however even a light perusal of the 1899 work shows there was a huge list of competing theories even then. Are we to suppose the work in question was some kind of economic logic bomb that disproved 20 competing ideas in one fell swoop?

Overall, since the author's entire thesis rests on Victorian ideas about economics, I might happily reject it, as this stuff is "Economics 101" in the same way that Newtonian Physics is "Physics 101" i.e. it's all since been proven to be a gross oversimplification of the real world. The issue we're supposed to be talking about today didn't even exist in 1899, so how is some economist supposed to have predicted the correct resolution back then with no data and not even the same kinds of globalized industries? Please. You may as well tell us what the Bible says, or what Nostradamus is supposed to have foretold.

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Re: Lies, damned lies, and economic theory

"One does not simply "point out" the truth of one's ideas."

No, one justifies it and then tells people (by "pointing out") what one has concluded. But in this day and age, one does simply puke one's lazy opinions into the comment sections on the internet and demand equal weight with those who have actually done the reasoning before "pointing out" the results.

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FAIL

Why GOOGLE, APPLE, EBAY SHOULD PAY TAXES

Because they do business here they should pay tax here, if we just tax people (the shareholders) and they all live in (say) the US then the rest of us are screwed.

Unless you can a figure a way for HMG to tax Californians on their share bonuses based on business done in the UK

The alternative is trade barriers.

And this is not just the UK, multinationals are screwing over developing countries all the time

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/february2009/ChristianAid-tax-justice-campaign.aspx

Dave

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Re: the alternative is trade barriers

Or sales tax, or lower corporate taxes than in Ireland/Luxembourg/etc. There are several solutions as always. But if UK govt decides on barriers it shows their attitude plain and straight, We Don't Allow Anybody to Milk Our Cows for Free.

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Silver badge
Facepalm

In a closed system maybe...

Unfortunately in the real world local companies cannot compete against the big boys because they ship profits to lower tax places and your local coffee shop goes bust.

Also, corporations tend to hoard cash waiting for tax holidays to on-shore it which results in non-productive capital being stashed away, and even when it is on-shored it goes to already rich shareholders or executives whose marginal rate of consumption is significantly lower than those at the bottom of the economy to whom taxes could redistribute corporate profits.

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Re: In a closed system maybe...

"Unfortunately in the real world local companies cannot compete against the big boys because"

.. they have higher turnover against which to amortise fixed overheads. This is a fact of life, and tax is neither here nor there. Employment regulations, for example, hit smaller companies disproportionately. So does the cost of acquiring IP. Or arranging one's tax affairs.

It's always like this: it's how arithmetic works and why companies get more successful as they grow. Direct your complaints about the laws of arithmetic to God and stop whining about Starbucks.

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Sil
FAIL

Nonsensical

This nonsensical opinion will do more harm than good confusing readers even more on a complicated and important issue by freely mixing economic theory, fantasy and not considering actual tax laws.

Of course companies do pay taxes or else there would be neither issue nor laws nor extremely rich tax consultants.

Of course Google, Apple, eBay should pay taxes as any other firms otherwise they would exploit an unfair inequitable economic advantage over other companies, which is unfortunately true nowadays, as most big international companies do ( GE being the king, having almost as many tax lawyers as engineers).

While companies have a duty to minimize their tax burdens they should do so in a lawful manner and not profit from legislation holes or evade tax by manipulating transfer pricing rules. It is very probable that double Irish and Dutch Sandwich’s days are counted because they are unfair and inequitable. Switzerland, Liechtenstein and many other fiscal paradises had to make huge tax law concessions for sums which are dwarfed by global companies tax dodging. While Ireland, the Netherlands and other tax havens in the EU such as Jersey and Guernsey have largely escaped the legislator’s scrutiny because they are in the EU, they will be next.

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Re: Nonsensical

"This nonsensical opinion will do more harm than good"

Says you. Compare your blathering to Tim. He produced facts and a chain of reasoning to justify his). You just pronounce yours ex-cathedra.

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Re: Nonsensical

He may provide a chain of reasoning, but the facts and opinions are debatable.

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Big Brother

oh dear

why does the reg insist on giving valuable whiskey vouchers to idiot right-wing shills?

corporate tax is the cost of doing business in the UK, you dont want to pay it, then fuck off and trade elsewhere.

you sir a wrong-headed oaf, and, given your starting point, i cant even begin to explain why. (well i prolly could... but whats the point?)

never mind, your precious market will address this, and amazon are already bracing themselves for their worst ever christmas results.

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Re: oh dear

"why does the reg insist on giving valuable whiskey vouchers to idiot right-wing shills?"

Perhaps El Reg see their mission as informing and educating.. Fat chance with people like you: idiot socialists who know nothing and gets all upset when your deranged ideology is undermined by facts and logic.

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Re: oh dear

unlike you clever clever neo-cons with your 'special' understanding of economics.

so pray tell, hows that whole 'we have eliminated all risk from ninja mortgages' thing working out for you?

so what about the Chinese economy (well known nest of Friedman worshipers if ever i saw one) out growing the good ol US by a factor of about 5. (and being more than a tad pissed off about their poor figures)

praps we need to look to Lehman bros to get a practical handle on how it all works? no, what about Kweku Adoboli, he must be a man who understands how it all works at the sharp end?

or maybe you are banging on about good corporate governance, you know HSBC _not_ laundering drug money, American Airlines, not skipping vital maintenance (gotta make a few more bucks for the shareholders, dead passengers?? that's just the cost of doing business) Enron anyone??

Anyone with 2 grey cells to rub together (so that's you out) gets that modern capitalism is comprehensively broken. By any metrics the US economy was in much better shape (sustained) in the 50's than it has been at any time since the 80's. and all you need to do is look at tax and spending policy in the respective periods to understand why. - apart from anything else the batshit crazy tax dodging 1%-ers just got their asses handed to them on a plate in an election a few weeks ago.

Mitt, the very paragon of the virtues you espouse, offered to work the same magic for the US economy that he had previously worked for so many great american businesses (mostly no longer trading) strangely they chose to stick with some kenyan terrorist!

go figure... maybe they know something you don't.

just maybe they know a lot that you don't

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Why I pay the full amount of corporation tax due

The EU tax law is not there so that companies can move around to find the lowest tax haven and 'base' their business there. It is so that a company based in the UK does not have to pay two lots of tax, one in each country, on the same profits. The US do it differently, if the company is based in the US, then every branch has to pay tax in the US no matter where it is based. This, you would think, justifies the moving of profits around to avoid local taxes as well as US taxes, except they don't pay tax in the US either, so it is avoidance.

Pay the going rate on tax in the country where the real corporate headquarters are based, then there is no question of avoidance or compliance. If you have to justify your tax policy, it is probably suspect. Don't forget we are talking about corporation tax which is based on profit. If you need to avoid tax to stay afloat, then something is seriously wrong with your business model, but most likely it is greed which drives this kind of behaviour.

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Re: Why I pay the full amount of corporation tax due

"It is so that a company based in the UK does not have to pay two lots of tax, one in each country, on the same profits."

No it's not. Double taxation treaties do that. The EU is a *single market*. If you don't understand what that is then I suggest you take the time to learn.

"If you need to avoid tax to stay afloat"

Who says anything about staying afloat? Companies aren't there to simply exist: they're there to make money, and the more the better. Sheesh. You really need to get educated.

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I suggest a compromise

This is mostly talking about US law...

I suggest a compromise. Corporations be allowed to pay lower taxes (say 10% - even lower than the 12.5% Irish rate that many companies are already using via various gimmicks) to help support services they do benefit from but they give up all aspects of person-hood besides being able to be directly sued (the purpose of the original law) - no more political spending (they aren't people so have no right to free speech as an entity unto themselves), etc.

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Re: I suggest a compromise

"I suggest a compromise."

"Hello! Is that the OECD? Yes? Good. I've got a proposal here from someone who writes HTML templates for a living. Yes, that's right, they've got a brilliant suggestion. All that work that you've done on a framework that's logical and consistent between countries? Yeah, you can forget that. Mr. HTML has gone and come up with a compromise that none of the thousands of people who've spent a lifetime understanding finance, accounting and economics have ever discovered. What's that? You've got a problem with your web site where it's not displaying foreign characters properly? Oh, I should ask my postman to sort that out: he's got a brilliant compromise on the handling of UTF-8 encoding."

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Re: I suggest a compromise

Poor analogy.

The guy is right about at least one thing. Corporations shouldn't have the same rights as people... considering they don't have the same responsibilities or conscience.

They should have the right to be sued, or sue, but they should not have any say politically.

Corporations often lobby governments for changes beneficial to their bottom line, but are against government involvement in their affairs. So they're willing to bend you over, but they don't want to accept the risk of being bent over like the rest of us.

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Corps are people

I will accept Corporations are people when Texas executes one

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Re: Corps are people

"I will accept Corporations are people when Texas executes one"

They do. Every day. It's what happens after bankruptcy.

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Re: Corps are people

yes, but we really need to see some dead bodies.

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FAIL

ROFL

This is a common argument of corporations.

Taxing a company a reasonable rate, when they have decent profits (i.e. cash lying around AFTER they've paid operating costs like wages, etc.) will not break them, or cause any undue pressure on them financially.

They have a responsibility to report higher profits to shareholders year after year, this is the untenable thread of corporate greed, and it is an illusion that everyone expects it to continue forever.

What are taxes for? Primarily to pay for infrastructure to facilitate commerce (transportation services from roadways and airports to buses and trains, police and military protection, health care for your workers from birth to death, education to prepare to work, old age security for aged workers, government oversight of labour laws, trade protection, throw a smidge of environmental protection in there). Of course being a worker isn't all that bad in this day, all this infrastructure helps us enjoy our time here too, we could still be living in sod or mudbrick houses.

Corporations are not people, so they can't make sound decisions about the greater good though. Corporations are structured in a way that they can only make economic decisions. As anyone who works for a corporation, myself included, will tell you, you feel a definite responsibility to uphold the rules and seek profit wherever it can be found. They are not evil or good, but are forces of a financial nature. If you want a large section of your economy to be held in banks, benefitting nobody (because a corporation isn't a person) except maybe an offshore banker, then by all means, eliminate corporate taxes.

There is a cost to doing business, just like the roadway outside a drive-thru gets potholes more frequently due to the high volume of traffic, there are costs to everything. The average person sees the costs shifting more and more to their shoulders, while services diminish and suffer, and governments tell their citizens that this is all untenable and we need to pay higher taxes, let corporations pay less, pay politicians and executives more. People in general would be happy if everyone were taxed a flat percentage to even things out, and corporations maybe a bit more to pay for the extra cost of abusing our infrastructure and having lack of responsibility to humanity. The only way to encourage social responsibility in corporations is to offer financial incentives, like tax deductions in exchange for acts of good towards the communities in which they thrive. So they have to be required to pay taxes to begin with.

Lowering corporate taxes never results in lower prices, higher wages or more jobs, the only three reasons you would ever want to. OK, maybe there is a fourth reason if you're desperate, if you want an incentive to keep call centers from moving out of your country into others with lower tax rates.

Also, tying taxes to a specific financial district is so old school. With our modern economy, we need more modern taxation. Sales taxes levied locally should apply to the online services we use. Why should I pay tax through the price of an item, to the government of another country? Likewise if a corporation is based in one country, it should have to contribute to the taxes of the country it does business in through "income tax." It's using the services of the country of business.

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Anonymous Coward

State taxes in USA

Similar to the EU situation, most (all?) USA-based on-line inter-state retailers don't pay State taxes (except for their home state) because State laws are poorly written. Unless the on-line merchant has a brick&mortar store in the State, no State sales tax is collected. This will likely change as several States are re-writing their legislation. Retailers will be required to collect sales taxes for the State where the invoice is sent. Technically, on-line buyers are breaking State laws by not paying State sales taxes but enforcement is not practical. New laws will make on-line buying just like at brick&mortar stores; sellers will become tax collectors for States.

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Re: because State laws are poorly written

Probably that's the reason why people in USA are reacher than in UK

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Thumb Down

a question of fairness - something an economist has no idea about

The "problem" for society is not a simple one that simple economists can either understand or solve.

It is one of "fairness". If a small company sets up in their locality they are almost immediately disadvantaged against larger companies simply by the proportion of overheads. Assuming that the proprietor is willing to eat lower margins to be able to compete then in the current system that are still disadvantaged because as soon as they are successful they are immediately taxed to death. The large, established companies simply "move" (on paper only) to a more beneficial locale and base their operation from Luxembourg or Ireland or where-ever.

The trouble is if you remove corporation tax, which seemingly solves the above problem, you have to then impose this somewhere else. So now you move the taxation to the income of the sharholders / beneficiaries which in turn just encourages those who can afford it to move their personal tax affairs to a more conducive locale - and we're straight back to square one.

Those individuals or companies that can afford - through scale - to *evade* tax will do so leaving the rest of us to pay for their lifestyle. I use the word evade intentionally as regardless of the legal or illegal methods used they are simply evading their moral duty to pay up and share the collective burden.

I don't have a solution but it's very easy to see the problem.

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Re: a question of fairness - something an economist has no idea about

I have a solution...

in fact i have 2

Smith & Wesson.

P.S. the scrote responsible for this article might like to describe himself as an economist, but he is in fact just a bean-counter. and we have all had experience of their ilk.

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Facepalm

seriously?

So if we force eBay, Google & Amazon to pay taxes then they will just ignore the UK?

If we make Starbucks pay tax then there will be no coffee houses, Auction houses will be something only rich countries have. yeah right.

Big business benefits countries, is that with the import of ICT workers that push down wages and avoid tax through generous (for employers) expense usage or by creating large business lobbying organisations so that only the little people pay tax or by buying UK companies & exporting the profits tax free?

Are we saying if we closed the loopholes such as royalties, flexible coffee costs etc that local businesses wouldn't fill the void? They might even pay some UK tax and employ some UK workers.

Look at the upsurge of 99p/£1 shops admittedly selling mainly Chinese goods but at a price below the main supermarkets, most are UK based. I suspect the multinational company will swallow the other companies eventually because they will have money in the bank from British taxpayers saved by offshore schemes to buy the UK based tax paying company out. They will then double the price.

Simple answer is that transfer prices are set at the lowest price paid globally by the company and royalty costs cannot be offset against tax. Transactions outside the EU are taxed at UK levels and an annual reclaim is made based on tax paid in the transaction country.

Vat avoidance - where a company sells something under the current threshold of Vat applies to pay the vat electronically before despatch. You can then have the packets marked tax paid with a corresponding bar code (like an electronic postage stamp), anything else is held at customs until the sender pays or returned to sender with a bill.Currently vat payment internationally is a complete mess with the only way to pay vat is via the carriers who charge extortionate handling fees to the recipient. That will stop various DVD companies living in the Isle of Man.

All of those are reasonably easy to administer.

The only way any company should avoid paying tax in the UK is by producing a certificate from their host country saying that they paid more, then we can reduce their tax liability proportionally.

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Anonymous Coward

and the winner is...

This article gets the coveted award for most wrong on a single page.

a fundamental misunderstanding of just about everything mixed up with some very heavy blinkers.

"Firstly, companies do not pay tax. No, not ever. A tax requires that the wallet of some human being gets lighter"

-can I have some? whatever that is that you're smoking. It might make me fret less about my corporation tax bill...

"Various tech companies sell into the UK from outside the UK. They book their revenue outside the UK, make their profits outside the UK, and thus no money is levied"

-yes, just last year I was one of 14 UK contractors who were replaced by an Indian offshore company.

Good business? or importing without paying duty and selling out your country for a quick buck?

As it turns out the quick bucks all disappear into the black hole of communications issues and an "inability to interpret requirements". But the intent was there and these guys receive public funding.

In theory it's some mixture of the customers (who end up with higher prices), the workers (who get lower wages) or the shareholders

--but only if you assume the taxation is not a part of the cost of business, which it is (unless you are Mad Max with Mad med skills)

While it is true that manipulating/playing the system has become so common place we don't think of it as wrong and have yet to wake up to the one directional economic tide.

The biggest common failure of comprehension is that a general principle of tax is that it should be paid on earnings in the jurisdiction in which they were earned.

Our MPs may (in their Hungry Hippo like greed) have neglected to foresee and legislate this in the face of emerging of international free markets. But that doesn't make it right to exploit the situation after dropping your kids off at school, popping into the doctor and driving off to work safe in the knowledge you're likely to encounter no greater danger than a queue for coffee.

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Silver badge

eBay doesn't sell anything, eBay's traders sell things.

Sheffield Markets don't sell anything, Fred the Fishmonger sells things.

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Anonymous Coward

Think please people it isn't hard...

...by the logic of many here - since I am on PAYE I don't pay any income tax at all ever - because I don't send a checque to HMRC.

This is all about what taxation structure is going to bring in the most money for the least cost with the least avoidance.

A good taxation scheme - one that brings in the most for the least will be regressive (land and consumption taxes). You fix that part by social spending and it still comes out cheaper in the long run than a progressive tax system

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Anonymous Coward

Amazon

I think the writer does have a point to some extent, yes when you are effectively importing product to the UK then its fine not to be taxed by it, so for example Facebook, eBay who are just selling services can exist wherever they like. However with Amazon we have a fairly different situation, they sell from Luxumberg but distribute from the UK, so all their stock actually is in the UK.

If they were to take the hit and actually export from Luxumberg and import into the UK then fair enough, let them trade from Lux and pay that tax rate, but they shouldn't be able to have the best of both worlds, UK distribution and non-UK taxation, especially when the entity explicitly is Amazon.co.uk

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Economics is corrupt

Imagine if the register received money from tech companies in return for favourable reviews, that's the situation with economics now. From Celtic tigers to a booming Iceland they're utterly corrupt, did you not watch Inside Job?

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Mushroom

Demagoguery

All this really is about conflict of interests. If UK government want more taxes from Google/Amazon/etc, they should try harder - first, they should replace corporate tax with sales tax or other kind of tax that's applied to revenues instead of profits. And the government have all the rights and means to do that. On the other hand, Google/Amazon/etc have full right to decide not to sell/serve/provide anything in the UK anymore. Let's wait and see who loses more.

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