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The transfer pricing methods established by the transfer pricing rules and practices of many countries (generally modelled after the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines) are not only complex to implement, but also fraught with challenges such as the lack of availability of comparables for benchmarking purposes, low accessibility of databases and the failed capacity of tax authorities to implement them. For tax authorities in African countries, these challenges are further amplified, for example, by lack of resources, especially human and capital, and a shortage of experience in applying transfer pricing rules. As a result of these challenges, achieving arm’s length prices for transactions between related entities has posed a significant burden and cost to both taxpayers and tax authorities. The OECD and the G20 initiated the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project to ameliorate some of the challenges listed above and to address the erosion of tax bases and shifting of profit to low-tax jurisdictions—challenges ultimately tied to the limitations of the arm’s-length standard and application of transfer pricing methodologies.
However, tax authorities in some jurisdictions already apply safe harbors and other simplified measures to mitigate the challenges of applying transfer pricing rules and practices. These measures reduce the need for taxpayers to prepare detailed transfer pricing documentation in justifying the arm’s-length price fixed for goods and services transferred among related entities. They also remove the need for tax authorities to audit the books of taxpayers where they act within approved margins. In some cases, they exempt taxpayers from applying transfer pricing rules to related-party transactions. Historically, the OECD discouraged the use of safe harbors by tax jurisdictions, claiming that they conflict with the arm’s length standard. In recent times, the OECD has changed its views on the use of safe harbors. The Statement on a Two-Pillar Solution to Address the Tax Challenges Arising from the Digitalization of the Economy recommends the use of safe harbors, including those in the GloBE rules, in determining marketing and distribution profits.
Given the positive recommendation by the OECD on the use of safe harbors in recent times, this Article analyzes the adoption and application of safe harbor regimes by certain countries and discusses how they should be designed. It recommends the cautious adoption and application of safe harbor regimes by tax authorities in African countries to achieve increased revenue collection, tax efficiency, certainty, simplicity and convenience, and to circumvent the complicated comparability analysis.