The Canadian government’s decision to move ahead with the Digital Services Tax Act, legislation that will take effect in 2024 should the international agreement at the OECD fail to materialize by that date, is problematic for reasons that extend beyond sparking a trade battle with the United States and potentially leading to billions in tariffs on Canadian goods and services. The plan also appears to violate Canada’s commitment at the OECD, in which all members agreed to a moratorium on introducing new digital services taxes.
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Should Have Seen This Coming: U.S. Raises Prospect of Retaliation Over Canada’s Digital Services Tax Plans
For the past two years, Canadian digital tax policy has been on a collision course with Canadian trade policy. The Liberal government committed in the 2019 election campaign to a digital services tax primarily designed to target large U.S. technology companies that generate significant revenues in Canada from online advertising and user data. The policy has been adopted in several other countries, repeatedly sparking a response from the U.S. that threatens to retaliate with tariffs on sensitive sectors of the economy. For example, after France announced plans for a similar tax, the U.S. threatened to levy billions in tariffs on French products.
As the trade threats escalate, the effort to strike an international agreement on the issue has gained increasing traction (my Law Bytes podcast last February with Professor Itai Grinberg provides a great backgrounder into the issue). After a preliminary deal was struck in October on an international approach, the U.S. dropped the tariff threat against several countries. Yet as efforts to finalize and implement the deal continue, Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced this week that new legislation will be introduced to create a Canadian digital services tax (this is distinct from digital sales taxes, which are currently in effect).