Impact of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Part V – Certain Changes Affecting Cross-Border Withholding and Sourcing

Thursday, November 2, the House Ways and Means Committee released the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) (the “Bill”), a bill that, if enacted, would represent the most substantial overhaul of the U.S. tax code in decades.  We are releasing a series of posts to highlight the provisions of the Bill affecting the topics pertinent to our readers, where each post will cover a different area of importance.  Part I of this series covered potential changes to employer-provided benefits, Part II addressed entertainment expenses and other fringe benefits, Part III discussed changes to employee retirement plans, and Part IV covered changes to the Code section 162(m) deduction limitation for executive compensation.  In this Part V, we will discuss the Bill’s potential impact on two cross-border tax issues.

Reduced FIRPTA Withholding Rates.  Under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA), gain or loss on the disposition of U.S. real property interests by a nonresident alien individual or foreign corporation is subject to U.S. income tax as though the taxpayer were engaged in a trade or business in the United State and such gain or loss were effectively connected with such trade or business.  Section 1445 applies a withholding mechanism to ensure the payment of any tax due.  When a domestic partnership, trust, or estate disposes of a U.S. real property interest, section 1445 requires that it (or the trustee or executor, in the case of a trust or estate, respectively) withhold 35 percent of the gain realized that is allocable to a foreign person (or allocable to a portion of a trust treated as owned by a foreign person).  Similarly, when a foreign corporation distributes a U.S. real property interest to its shareholders, it must withhold at a rate of 35 percent.  The same withholding rate applies to distributions that are treated as gains or losses from the disposition of a U.S. real property interest allocable to foreign persons from certain domestic entities (such as real estate investment trusts and registered investment companies that would be considered U.S. real property holding corporations if their shares were not publicly traded).  Section 3001 of the Bill, which reduces corporate tax rates in general, includes a corresponding reduction of the FIRPTA tax withholding rate, modifying paragraphs 1445(e)(1), 1445(e)(2), and 1445(e)(6) to require withholding at a 20 percent rate.  The reductions would take effect for tax years beginning after 2017.

Modification to Sourcing Rule for Sales of Inventory Property.  Currently, up to 50 percent of income from the sale of inventory property produced entirely within the United States and sold outside the United States (or vice-versa) can be treated as foreign-source income for purposes of calculating foreign tax credits.  Section 4102 of the Bill would require sales of inventory property to be sourced solely based on the location of production activity with respect to the inventory.  This change would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.