Taxing times for Singapore as corporate strategy faces scrutiny

Sun Nov 24, 2013 4:13pm EST
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By Rachel Armstrong

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Tiny Singapore does not look at first sight like one of Apple Inc's priority markets: it has no official Apple Store and doesn't even rate a mention in the company's latest annual report.

Apple South Asia Pte Ltd, however, its Singapore entity, booked $14.9 billion in revenue for the 12 months to September 2012 - more than it would have received had the country's entire 5.3 million population each bought an iPhone 5S, an iPad Air and a MacBook Pro.

There is nothing illegal about the accounting practices employed by the computer giant, which, like many multinational companies ranging from Google Inc and Microsoft Corp to BHP Billiton and Huawei Technology Co, uses the city-state as a key hub for its Asia business.

Singapore has so far largely stayed out of the debate raging in Europe and the United States about the ways multinationals try to lower their tax bills.

But revenue-hungry governments are looking to impose tougher rules on so-called transfer pricing that could make it harder for firms to trade goods, services or assets between their Singapore and overseas entities.

As a result, accountants warn that the city-state will need to review the level of transparency in its tax incentive schemes and get stronger justifications from companies on their transfer pricing arrangements to fend off challenges from other jurisdictions.

"Singapore's challenge is to ensure that it stands ready to adequately address any kind of unilateral tax action taken by other countries," said Abhijit Ghosh, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Singapore.

"In this brave new world of fiscal competition for the tax dollar, dispute resolution will be on the increase and Singapore will need to focus more resources on enforcing and defending its principles of value creation in international forums."   Continued...

People line up outside an Apple reseller retail shop during the launch of the Apple iPad in Singapore in this July 23, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files