Moore Stephens calls for EU tonnage tax stability


International accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens has called for stability for European tonnage tax regimes now that the EC has begun its review of EU State Aid Guidelines to Maritime Transport

The start of the EC’s review of the EU State Aid Guidelines to Maritime Transport was announced on 14 February 2012. These guidelines cover European tonnage tax regimes as well as other state aid to the maritime sector. The EC has published a detailed and very comprehensive questionnaire regarding these state aid guidelines, inviting responses from citizens, organisations and public authorities.

The EC says the objective of the consultation is to invite member states, other institutions and stakeholders to provide information on industry developments, feedback on the application of the 2004 Community Guidelines on State Aid to Maritime Transport (due for review within seven years of their date of application) and their effects, as well as any comments and proposals regarding state aid for maritime transport. The Commission will analyse the outcome of the consultation before deciding to what extent changes to the current rules are necessary and, if appropriate, come forward with a proposal for revised guidelines. At this stage, the Commission has not taken a position concerning a possible modification of the existing guidelines.

Moore Stephens tax partner Sue Bill, said: “We hope the EC will bear in mind the importance of stability to European tonnage tax regimes. This is particularly important given the current difficult economic climate, and the fact that EU tonnage tax regimes are competing with other jurisdictions, such as Singapore, which offer very attractive tax breaks to the shipping sector. It will be important for all interested parties in the EU to ensure that they are involved as much as possible in the consultation process.”

In a separate development, shipowners in the UK tonnage tax regime were recently encouraged by positive remarks made at the UK Chamber of Shipping’s recent annual dinner by Shipping Minister Mike Penning, who said the UK government had no intention of touching the UK tonnage tax regime.

Sue Bill added: “The minister’s remarks referred to HMRC’s reinterpretation of the rules relating to the requirement that strategic and commercial management of the ships is located in the UK. HMRC has published revised, interim guidance which broadly reinstates HMRC’s pre-2009 position. Further consultation with the shipping industry has been promised, although no additional information has been provided regarding the scope and timing of the consultation.

“The minister’s comments are a very encouraging development, but it is not yet the end of the story. It is important that the consultation goes ahead, so that final guidance can be issued, in order to give further reassurance to the shipping industry. The government should take the opportunity to simplify and improve the regime. In addition, HMRC needs to act in a reasonable and consistent manner with regard to all matters relating to the UK tonnage tax regime, not just the strategic and commercial management test.

“As the UK government is required to act within the EU guidelines, the outcome of the EC review will also be important.”