On January 3, 2018 Cyprus and Saudi Arabia signed a new double taxation agreement (DTA), the first between the two countries. The new agreement was published in the Cyprus government gazette on March 5, 2018. Like all of Cyprus’s recent DTAs it closely follows the 2014 OECD Model Tax Convention. It also includes a protocol elaborating the provisions on offshore activities and information exchange. The key features of the DTA and the protocol are as follows.
Article 5 of the DTA, which defines a permanent establishment, is almost identical to the corresponding article of the OECD Model Convention, except that a building site or construction or installation project will constitute a permanent establishment if it lasts more than six months, rather than the 12 months required by the OECD model. In addition, provision of services, including consultancy services, gives rise to a permanent establishment if it amounts to more than 6 months within any 12- month period.
If an enterprise has a representative in the territory of a country who has, and habitually exercises, authority to conclude contracts in the name of the enterprise, or who maintains a stock of goods or merchandise from which he regularly delivers goods or merchandise on behalf of the enterprise, the enterprise concerned is deemed to have a permanent establishment in respect of any activities which the person undertakes for it. As in the OECD Model, the DTA provides that an independent broker or agent who represents the enterprise in the ordinary course of business will not fall within the scope of this provision. Care needs to be taken regarding the issuing of general powers of attorney so as not to risk inadvertently creating a permanent establishment, with potentially unfavourable consequences.
Income from immovable property
Article 6, which deals with income from immovable property, reproduces the corresponding article of the OECD Model verbatim, allowing for income received by a resident of one of the parties derived from immovable property situated in the territory of the other to be taxed in the state in which the property is located. It also makes clear that the scope of the article extends to income from immovable property used for the performance of independent personal services.
Article 7, which deals with business profits, reproduces the corresponding article of the OECD Model verbatim, with profits (apart from profits of a permanent establishment in the other contracting state) being taxable only in the contracting state in which the enterprise is resident.
An additional paragraph has been inserted to make clear that in determining the taxable profits of a permanent establishment, no deduction is allowed for royalties, commissions, management costs or (except in the case of banking enterprises) interest paid to the head office or other parts of the business, and disregarded in determining its taxable profits.
Shipping and aviation
Profits from the operation of ships or aircraft in international traffic are taxable only in the contracting state in which the enterprise concerned is resident. For this purpose profits include profits derived from the rental of ships or aircraft under a full or bareboat charter, and profits derived from the use or rental of containers and related equipment that is incidental to income from the international operation of ships or aircraft.
Dividends paid by a company resident in one contracting state to a company (but not a partnership) which is a resident of the other contracting state are exempt from withholding tax if the recipient directly or indirectly holds at least 25 percent of the capital of the company paying the dividends. Otherwise withholding tax is limited to 5 per cent if the beneficial owner of the dividends is a resident of the second contracting state. These provisions are relevant only to dividends paid from Saudi Arabia, since Cyprus does not impose withholding taxes on dividends.
This exemption does not apply if the dividends derive from a permanent establishment or a fixed base in the contracting state from which the dividends are paid, through which the beneficial owner of the income (who is also a resident in one of the contracting states) carries on business or performs independent personal services.
Interest (referred to in the agreement as income from debt-claims) arising in one contracting state and paid to a resident of the other who is its beneficial owner is exempt from withholding tax. This exemption is limited to interest calculated on an arm’s length basis. It does not apply if the interest derives from a permanent establishment or a fixed base in the contracting state from which the income is paid, through which the beneficial owner of the income (who is also a resident in one of the contracting states) carries on business or performs independent personal services.
Withholding tax on royalties paid from a contracting state is limited to 5 per cent of the gross amount if the royalties relate to industrial, commercial or scientific equipment, and to 8 per cent in respect of all other assets, if the beneficial owner of the royalties is a resident of the other contracting state. This exemption is limited to royalties calculated on an arm’s length basis. The exemption does not apply if the royalties derive from a permanent establishment or a fixed base in the contracting state from which they are paid, through which the beneficial owner of the income (who is also a resident in one of the contracting states) carries on business or performs independent personal services. Royalties are generally deemed to arise in the contracting state of which the payer is a resident. However, where the royalties are borne by a permanent establishment or a fixed base they are be deemed to arise in the contracting state in which the permanent establishment or fixed base is situated.
Gains derived by a resident of one contracting state from the alienation of immovable property (or of moveable property forming part of a permanent establishment or a fixed base for the performance of personal services) situated in the other may be taxed in the contracting state in which the property is situated. Gains from the alienation of shares forming part of what the DTA defines as a “substantial participation” in the capital of a non-listed company may be taxed in the country of which the company is a resident. A person is considered to have a substantial participation when their holding amounts to 25 per cent or more of the capital of the investee company at any time within twelve months prior to the alienation. Gains derived from the alienation of all other property (including ships or aircraft operated in international traffic) are taxable only in the contracting state of which the alienator is a resident.
Independent professional services
Article 14 deals specifically with independent professional services. It provides that income derived by a resident of one contracting state from professional or similar services performed in the other are taxable only in the contracting state of which the person concerned is resident, unless the individual has a fixed base regularly available to him in the other contracting state for the purpose of performing his activities or if he is present in the other contracting state for more than 183 days in total during any twelve-month period commencing or ending in the fiscal year concerned. In either of these cases the income derived from the activities performed in the host state may be taxed there.
Elimination of double taxation
Elimination of double taxation is by the credit method. The credit against tax in the country of residence is limited to the amount of tax that would be payable on the income concerned in the country of residence. The provisions for elimination of double taxation will not affect the operation of the Zakat collection regime in Saudi Arabia.
Exchange of information
Article 26 of the DTA is a word-for-word reproduction of the corresponding article of the OECD Model Convention. The protocol to the agreement stipulates the supporting information required to demonstrate the foreseeable relevance of any information requested, in line with the provisions of Cyprus’s Assessment and Collection of Taxes Law. The protocol also provides that information should not be provided unless the contracting state that made the request has reciprocal provisions or applies appropriate administrative practices for the provision of the information requested.
Article 28 of the DTA provides that it will not affect the operation of any law of either contracting state relating to tax imposed on income derived by non-residents from insurance activities.
Entry into force and termination
The two countries are required to notify one another through diplomatic channels once their domestic ratification procedures have been completed, and the DTA will enter into force on the first day of the second month following the month in which the later of the notifications is received. It will enter into effect on the following first day of January. For example, if the second notification is received during November 2018, the DTA will enter into force on January 1, 2019 and will enter into effect on January 1, 2020.
The DTA will remain in force until terminated. Either country may terminate it by giving written notice of termination through diplomatic channels of at least six months no earlier than five years after the agreement entered into force. The DTA will cease to have effect from the beginning of the following calendar year.
As well as dealing with exchange of information, the protocol also clarifies the application of the DTA to offshore activities, so as to ensure that each state’s taxation rights in respect of offshore activities are preserved in circumstances where they might otherwise be limited by other provisions of the agreement, such as those dealing with permanent establishment and business profits. Special rules are required because of the short duration of some of these activities.
A resident of one contracting state carrying on offshore exploration or exploitation activities in the other contracting state, (including its territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone or continental shelf) is deemed to be carrying on business through a permanent establishment for as long as the activities are carried out, however short that period may be.
Gains derived by a resident of a contracting state from the alienation of assets (either tangible or intangible) deriving the majority of their value from exploration or exploitation rights in the second contracting state (including its territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone or continental shelf) may be taxed in the second state.
The new agreement is a further valuable extension of Cyprus’s network of DTAs. Saudi Arabia’s economy is globally significant, and the country’s recently-announced diversification programme will no doubt result in increased inward and outward investment, which Cyprus aspires to play a role in channelling. It is therefore to be hoped that the remaining steps required to bring the agreement into effect can be achieved quickly. In the meantime the Cyprus tax authorities will doubtless follow their normal practice of allowing unilateral relief for taxes paid overseas.