Our Specialist Counsel, Vincent was commissioned by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to prepare a paper: ‘Report on the Challenges which Digital Assets Pose for Tax Systems with a Special Focus on Developing Countries’.
The paper highlights the need for governments to carefully consider the implications which the rise of crypto assets can have on tax systems, noting that the absence of a deliberate policy position would be a policy decision in itself, with consequences for the tax base. It discusses four main classes of tax risks which crypto assets pose.
Firstly, crypto assets and crypto transactions can act as ‘functional substitutes’ for traditional assets and transactions. As existing tax laws are drafted without crypto assets in mind, this can produce a host of unintended tax consequences and produce opportunities for tax arbitrage.
Secondly, the values of crypto assets exhibit significant volatility, with extreme swings in the values of tokens on average. There are also issues of potential instability in crypto markets, as evidenced by the recent ‘crypto winter’. In the absence of appropriate safeguards and ring-fencing, these crypto losses could potentially be used to set off income from other sources, resulting in a significant erosion of the tax base.
Thirdly, crypto assets give rise to certain events which may not have a traditional equivalent, such as mining and forging. Tax systems which do not consider these new potential sources of revenue risk losing out.
Fourthly, crypto assets may be used to facilitate tax evasion. The pseudonymity offered by crypto assets and the opportunities to conduct transactions outside of the traditional banking system inherently poses the risk of tax evasion, both premeditated and incidental (for example, through the shadow economy).
Annex A1 provides a comprehensive introduction to crypto assets and their taxation.
The paper recommends that governments should consider evaluating the risks to their tax systems posed by crypto assets, develop crypto tax guidance for both internal tax authority use and for taxpayers, and work on training and capacity building in crypto taxation.
The paper is due to be considered by the 26th Session of the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters.
The article may be accessed here https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4395761; and https://www.un.org/development/desa/financing/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.financing/files/2023-03/Report%20Challenges%20of%20Digital%20Assets%20for%20Tax%20Systems.pdf.