Bloomberg Tax
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Bloomberg Tax
Advanced Search Go
Free Newsletter Sign Up

U.S. Weighs Trade Action Over French Digital Tax, Official Says

March 12, 2019, 4:19 PM

A senior U.S. Treasury official said the country is reviewing how it will respond to France’s proposed tax on digital companies, which it says is highly discriminatory against the U.S.

The French government estimates that the 3 percent tax on businesses with 750 million euros ($846 million) in worldwide digital revenue and 25 million euros of French digital sales would net around 30 tech giants, mostly from the U.S.

“Various parts of our government are studying whether the discriminatory impact would give us rights under trade agreements,” Chip Harter, deputy assistant secretary for international tax affairs at the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy, said March 12.

The discriminatory impact of the French proposal on U.S. companies could be raised under the World Trade Organization, trade agreements, and treaties, Harter said.

Harter made the comments ahead of a March 13-14 digital tax meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.

Companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon Inc., Facebook Inc., and Apple Inc. that would be affected by the French digital tax would have to pay their tax bills in October 2019.

Doubts on OECD Consensus This Year

France’s proposed digital tax is an interim measure ahead of an international consensus being considered through the efforts of the OECD.

But Harter said he doesn’t expect the OECD to reach a consensus on taxing the digital economy by the end of 2019. “I don’t think the OECD will be done by the end of the year, and we are hoping to achieve the broad outlines of an agreement together with a working plan on how to achieve it with all the technical issues that will need to be studied by June, but it will still be a “work in progress,” he said.

Any solution that the OECD ends up choosing will not be in a workable position until the end of 2020, he added.

His views contrast with France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, who has said he expects consensus by the end of the year.

Harter also reiterated the U.S. position that the preferred solution would be to tax the digital economy by making changes to international tax rules for marketing intangibles, under which part of a multinational’s above-normal profits would be allocated to the countries where consumers are.

“The U.S. is opposed to any digital services tax proposals,” Harter said. “We believe that they are ill conceived, given that user participation is just not a sound basis for taxing companies, given that the users are unrelated parties and that their input is purchased on barter basis when they get a free service.”

The EU’s efforts to impose a 3 percent tax on the revenue of digital giants reached an impasse in December 2018, when several countries, including Ireland and Finland, vetoed the idea. The EU has tried to revive the effort with a second, watered-down version that narrows the scope of the tax to advertising revenue earned after 2022.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hamza Ali in Paris at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at; Penny Sukhraj at