For over a decade, countries have been looking for ways to tax the digital economy. On July 1, 130 countries announced an agreement that would provide a new taxing right to enable a country to tax a portion of digital profits even in the absence of traditional taxable nexus with the country. This new taxing right is known as “Amount A”. The quantum of Amount A remained a mystery until the publication of the OECD’s “Statement on a Two-Pillar Solution to Address the Tax Challenges Arising From the Digitalisation of the Economy” on July 1, 2021 (the “Statement”) which quantified Amount A to be “between 20-30% of residual profit defined as profit in excess of 10% of revenue” for in-scope enterprises. Although this quantum of Amount A represents a political compromise, a solid theoretical basis underlying that compromise is essential to sustaining consensus.
The early proposals to modify profit allocation and nexus rules for the digital economy enterprises, which ultimately produced Amount A, strived to be based on certain subjective criteria, including the concepts of user participation, marketing intangibles and/or the concept of significant economic presence. The contemplated methods for profit allocation were the Modified Residual Profit Split method, Fractional Apportionment method, and Distribution-based approaches, along with the options for business line and regional segmentation. However, the criteria and methods of the early proposals are nowhere to be found to found in the OECD July 2021 Statement, leaving many questions about Amount A still unanswered. While the final compromise on Pillar One eliminates the focus on digital economy and shifts instead to high profitability when defining in-scope MNEs, the “digital essence” still surrounds Amount A. For one thing, the introduction to the Statement continues to refer to the “two-pillar solution to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalisation of the economy.” Moreover, a widely accepted assumption in the final Pillar One negotiations is that high profits are generated by intangibles and those are increasingly concentrated with digital businesses. Therefore, an analysis of Amount A cannot be divorced from the analysis of the factors that contribute to the digital economy.