Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mexico Tax Audits

Excerpt from August 2008 Issue of Practical Mexican Tax Strategies by Jaime González-Béndiksen (Baker & McKenzie)

The Mexican tax administration continues to increase its audit activity in practically all sectors of taxpayers, with special emphasis being paid lately to the pharmaceutical and oil sectors. This article excerpt will briefly discuss some of the transfer pricing issues being raised in recent audits.

Transfer Pricing
Secret comparables. It appears that the tax administration is testing the waters with respect to the use of the so-called secret comparables. These are comparables that the tax administration gathers from its own internal records, such as customs records. The administration gathers information on imports of what it considers to be products similar to those of the taxpayer and, on the basis of such information, rejects the prices paid by the Mexican taxpayer to its related parties abroad. The taxpayer is allowed to review the information gathered by the tax administration and to make notes. It does not, however, have any access to the entire customs files of the administration such that it could confirm whether or not the information gathered by the administration is correct or such that it could locate other information to disprove the administration’s findings. In our view, use of the secret comparables violates Constitutional principles and, as such, should be overturned by our courts when this matter comes to their attention.

Business Restructuring. The tax administration continues to audit business or supply-chain restructurings. It is not that the restructuring, as such, are prohibited. The tax administration’s arguments are basically that the restructuring and, consequently the transfer pricing study to support it, lacks substance. The administration tries to disprov the functions and risks that have arguably being transferred from the Mexican entity to one or more foreign companies within the same group. Regarding functions, the administration generally argues that in fact no functions were transferred abroad. Typically, where the taxpayer argues that purchasing and sales functions are now outside of Mexico, the tax administration looks into whether the foreign entity now charged with the functions has, in fact, employees to carry on these functions and whether or not the Mexican personnel formerly charged with these functions has left the Mexican company or continues to work there. Where managerial functions have reportedly been moved outside of Mexico, the tax administration also looks into whether the employees of the Mexican company formerly charged with the managerial functions in question, have or have not been relocated. On the risks side, the administration looks into whether the Mexican company’s history shows any such risks in fact occurring in the past, such as inventory risks, product liability, bad debts, etc. Its motto is that where there is nothing to lose no risk is being assumed.

These audits, however, typically forget to address the fact that whatever flaws the functions or risks may have, assets have in fact moved. Intangibles are now owned by a foreign member of the group. The production is also owned by a foreign principal who either sells it to a commissionaire in Mexico or sells it to the Mexican company for distribution. No doubt the mere fact that the Mexican taxpayer now owns virtually no assets, calls for a lower return. As mentioned earlier, this is often ignored by the auditors.

More on Business Restructuring


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