Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting us to appear this morning to talk about Bill S-17, Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2013.
Canada has one of the most extensive networks of income tax treaties in the world, with 90 tax treaties currently in force. Bill S-17, once into force, will increase this number to 93, by implementing new treaties with Hong Kong, Namibia and Serbia. Bill S-17 will also implement a revised treaty with Poland, which will replace the existing treaty which dates back to 1987.
Further, Bill S-17 contains a protocol with Luxembourg and an agreement with Switzerland. In both cases, the agreements modify the provisions of the existing treaties with these countries relating to the exchange of tax information to ensure that they are consistent with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development standard for tax information.
Canada's tax treaties are generally patterned on the OECD model tax convention, modified to reflect the particularities of the Canadian tax system. Internationally, most tax treaties are generally patterned on the OECD model as well. Tax treaties are used for two main purposes: first, to eliminate tax barriers between two jurisdictions in order to promote bilateral trade and investment; and second, to prevent tax avoidance and evasion by encouraging the exchange of information for tax purposes between taxation authorities.
Allow me to expand slightly on each of these objectives and explain how the agreements in Bill S-17 support these objectives.
International double taxation can impose a barrier to cross-border trade and investment. Tax treaties prevent double taxation by providing greater certainty to taxpayers regarding their potential liability to tax in a foreign jurisdiction, by allocating taxing rights between two jurisdictions so that the taxpayers are not subjected to double taxation; by reducing the risk of "burdensome" taxation, which l will explain in a moment and which may arise because of high withholding taxes paid on certain payments; and, finally, by ensuring that taxpayers will not be subject to discriminatory taxation in the foreign jurisdiction.
Under our own domestic laws, payments of dividends, interest, and royalties made to non-residents are subject to rates of withholding equal to 25 per cent of the gross amount paid. Many of Canada's trading partners also have similar rates of withholding. Because the withholding tax does not take into account expenses incurred in generating the income, a taxpayer frequently will be subject to an effective rate of tax that is significantly higher than the rate that would be applicable if the income were taxed on a net basis. That's what I referred to earlier as “burdensome” taxation, which is clearly an impediment to cross-border trade and investment.
Tax treaties alleviate this burden by setting maximum levels of withholding tax that a treaty partner may impose on these types of payments or by providing, in some cases, for taxation exclusively in the state of residence. For example, the tax treaty with Hong Kong would impose limitations on the rates of withholding to 5% on direct dividends, 15% on other dividends, and 10% on non-arm's-length interest and on royalties.
Hong Kong is one of the largest financial markets in Asia in terms of trade and an important destination of Canadian foreign direct investment. Once the treaty is in force, it is expected that it will further encourage trade and investment and solidify our bilateral links.
The second objective that I mentioned at the outset was the prevention of tax avoidance and evasion. A key element our tax treaties is the provision authorizing the exchange of information between the respective tax authorities. Better transparency and access to information are important tools for tax authorities to enforce their own domestic tax law and to prevent international tax evasion.
In order to enhance Canada's network of information sharing, budget 2007 required that all of Canada's new tax treaties and revisions to its existing treaties would include the standard developed by the OECD for the exchange of information. The six agreements in Bill S-17 contain exchange-of-information provisions that are consistent with the OECD standard. In fact, two of the agreements in the bill with Luxembourg and Switzerland deal exclusively with the exchange of information. These provisions mandate the tax authorities of the treaty partners to exchange information relevant to the administration of each country's respective tax laws in conformity with the standard. The provisions also ensure that the effective exchange of information is not impeded by bank secrecy laws that may exist in the other country.
I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks that Bill S-17 would contribute to increasing the extent of our tax treaties network, but it is as important to revise our tax treaties and to update them, where necessary.
The treaty with Poland is a good example. The need to negotiate and sign a new treaty with Poland was the fact that the existing treaty between Canada and Poland was signed in 1987, in a much different economic context than today. The new treaty with Poland reflects Canada's new policies regarding maximum withholding tax rates on payments of dividends, interest, and pensions. Of course, the agreement includes the most recent standards when it comes to the exchange of information.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks. I am available to the committee to answer any questions.