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The relocation of production abroad - What are the tax implications that need to be considered?

The relocation of production abroad is no longer a possible scenario solely for large corporate groups. Rising energy prices, skills shortages and high wage levels are issues of concern, in particular, for medium-sized enterprises in Germany with a view to ensuring their competitiveness. Consequently, the relocation of production, most notably to Eastern European states, is not an exception any more. Here, the cross-border processes that are necessary for this will require careful and thorough consideration of the tax law implications in order to avoid significant corrections to income within the framework of a tax audit.

Supplying materials and buying back finished products

When materials are supplied to a foreign production company and the finished products are bought back the transfer pricing has to comply with the arm’s length principles.

Applicable methods

When calculating transfer prices within the framework of supply and performance relationships between affiliated companies you have to use the so-called standard transaction-based methods (comparable uncontrolled price method, resale price method, cost plus method). The most appropriate method will have to be determined for an actual individual case. 

Functional and risk profiles

When assessing the cost base for the transfer pricing, the extent to which the production company itself has an active role in the strategic procurement processes for materials will be of importance. If the production company does not perform any function on the procurement side, then the material costs would have to be eliminated from the cost base. As a consequence, the materials obtained from the (German) domestic company would have to be allocated directly to the company by the production company without a mark-up. A profit mark-up may thus only be included in relation to the production company’s other costs.

Criteria that can be used to determine whether or not a production company has a role in the procurement process include, among others, being involved in: 

  • selecting suppliers,
  • negotiating prices,
  • determining the quality,
  • determining the quantity, and
  • negotiating the terms of delivery.

Taking locational advantages into account

Within the framework of tax audits by fiscal authorities, the advantages that result from the relocation of the production (e.g., low wage and labour costs) are taken into account as part of the corrections to income. Here, the extent of the advantages is determined and, subsequently, allocated between the participating companies. Generally, the main beneficiary here is the (German) domestic company. 

Please note: In order to avoid significant corrections, it is imperative to carry out a full analysis of the locational advantages and to take these into account when determining the transfer pricing. 

Timing of the determination of transfer pricing

Standard transfer pricing rules that are used in practice generally provide for the setting of transfer prices that comply with the arm’s length principles already during the budgeting phase. Accordingly, the information that is available at the time when the transfer prices are determined serves as a basis.

Under the administrative principles, actual developments in the underlying data should be compared with the forecasting data. If deviations are found then subsequent corrections would need to be made.

Recommendation: During tax audits, the transactions are routinely checked retroactively to see if they are consistent with the arm’s length principle. In order to avoid conflicts, it would therefore be advisable to carry out reviews and to make any necessary forward-looking adjustments over the course of the year. 

Shifting customers to the production company

If the (German) domestic company transfers an existing business relationship to the production company and thus waives future profits then this could be construed as being a constructive dividend. However, tax consequences would only arise if the situation constituted a ‘specific business opportunity’ to which the nature of a capital asset could be attributed. For that it would be important, among other things, that the company could indeed seize this business opportunity. This would be doubtful if, for the (German) domestic company, continuing doing business would not be economically viable. Here, the details in each case would have to be closely checked and the tax implications examined.

Conclusion

While the relocation of production abroad may offer numerous advantages in relation to cost reductions, in practice, it is nevertheless essential to consider these advantages in terms of tax law, in particular, with respect to the determination of appropriate transfer pricing. Besides, the organisation of the relocation also has to be viewed from the perspective of tax law in order to ensure an optimum tax structure. Moreover, as always, tax alone should not be the decisive motive for relocating production in order to prevent having to reverse the transaction.

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