The Unresolved Issue of AMP Expenses in Transfer Pricing – India

One of the most perplexing yet significant concepts within the Transfer Pricing Dispute Resolution is with regards to the Advertisement, Marking and Promoting (AMP) Expenses that are drawn by the Indian Entities of a company for the products of its foreign Associate Entity. This concept has been surrounded by controversy and confusion since its inception within the practice and study of Transfer Pricing and this is because of the absence of any statutes or regulations dealing with it and its jurisprudence is built purely on the judicial precedents that have been delivered by the Tribunals and High Courts, however, interestingly even the courts appear to have a tough time dealing with issues pertaining to AMP expenses.

The origin of this dispute can be traced back to the United States Tax Court in the case of United States v. DHL Corporation, after the introduction of the US Regulations of 1968 which introduced an important concept pertaining to “Developer Assister Rules” as per which the entity which has incurred the AMP Expenses (Developer) would be treated as the economic owner of the brand which is being marketed even though it might not be its legal owner, and the legal owner of the Brand i.e., the Assister need not pay any compensation for the use of the brand by the developer. These regulations were grounded on the notion of equitable ownership of a brand on the basis of the fiscal expenditure and the risk incurred by them, and the legal ownership of the brand has not to be taken as one of the criteria for ascertaining who would be considered as the developer of the Brand or the intangible property in question.

However, it is pertinent to consider that the Transfer Pricing Rules in America create a clear distinction between “Routine” and “Non-Routine” expenditure, which is essential to understand the issue of the monetary remuneration that is given to the domestic associated entity for marketing intangibles. In DHL, the court framed the Bright Line Test (BLT) which created a distinction between the routine and non-routine expenses that were incurred by the companies. According to the Bright Line Test, it is necessary to ascertain the non-routine expenses that have been incurred i.e., for marketing purposes in contrast to the routine expenses that the incurred by the brand’s distributor for product promotion while ascertaining the economic ownership of the intangible in question.

The issue pertaining to AMP expenses was first dealt with in the case of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. v. Additional Commissioner of Income Tax [(2010) 328 ITR 210] before the Delhi High Court, where the Bench held that the Advertisement, Marketing and Promoting Expenses will be considered as an international transaction only in cases where it exceeds the costs and expenses that have been incurred by comparable domestic entities which are similarly situated. However, the Delhi High Court’s judgement was remanded following which it was challenged before the Honourable Supreme Court in Maruti Suzuki v. Additional Commissioner of Income Tax [2011] 335 ITR 121 (SC) where it was overturned by the Apex Court.

In LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd. v Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax [(2013) 140 ITD 41 (Delhi) (SB)], the Delhi Bench of the ITAT referred to the precedent by the Delhi High Court in Maruti Suzuki and held that the as per Chapter X of the Income Tax Act, 1961 the Assessing Officer has the right to make an adjustment for Transfer Pricing vide application of the Bright Line Test in issues pertaining to the AMP expenses that have been drawn by the Indian Entity, since this would fall within the ambit of an international transaction, and this would be deduced from the proportionally higher AMP expenses that were incurred by the Domestic Entity in contrast to two similarly situated domestic entities. The Revenue’s understanding that the AMP expenses which are incurred by the Domestic Associated Entity will inevitably result in a benefit to the Foreign Associated Entity in terms of increasing its brand value along with the lack of lack adequate compensation to the latter for the same, is the primary reason behind its attempt to bring all expenses pertaining to advertising, marketing and promotion within the ambit of the country’s Transfer Pricing Laws, thus it takes the job of applying an Arm’s Length Prince on such transactions which are used for AMP and the test that is most widely employed for this purpose is the Bright Line Test which used by the court in the case of LG Electronics, where it looked at the Bright Line, which is a line drawn within the total expenditure for the purposes of AMP which signified the average spending for the same purpose by comparable entities and any amount which would exceed the line would be considered as an international transaction which would represent the expenses that were drawn by the domestic entity for the building the brand value of the Foreign Associated Entity’s product.

The precedent in Sony Ericsson proved to be a gamechanger wherein the court went to the extent of overruling all of the abovementioned judgements with regards to whether AMP Expenses by the Domestic Entity would be considered as an internal transaction. In this case, the court did not face any issues in determining whether it would constitute an international transaction since the entities had submitted that the international between the Foreign Associated Entity and the Domestic Entity also included the money for the purposes of AMP. While the Revenue had relied on the precedent in LG Electronics to show cause for their application of the Bright Line Test in determining the part of the expenses towards AMP that would be considered as an international transaction. However, the court reject the Revenue’s submissions and reasoning while holding that the Bright Line Test did not have legislative or statutory backing and thus the precedent in LG Electronics was overruled with regards to the use and applicability of the Bright Line Test for ascertaining international transactions since this would be considered as an outcome of judicial legislation.

After the precedent in Sony Ericsson there has been a drastic change in the judicial approach towards issues pertaining to AMP expenses within the realm of transfer pricing. However, since the Court has failed to elaborate upon what would constitute an international transaction in Sony Ericsson, the courts and tribunals have gone back to the phase of drowning in confusion to deal with cases pertaining to AMP expenses and have struggled with determining a proper method for the same.

A transfer pricing adjustment can only be made when it has met the statutory framework of highlighting the existence of an international transaction, determination of the price and fixing an ALP in compliance with Section 92 C of the Income Tax Act. While the element of the international transaction was not disputed in all of the aforementioned cases, the primary issue was with regards what would constitute an international a transaction. The definition of an international transaction as per the Income Tax Act includes the parties to have an agreement between themselves for such a transaction and a shared understanding with regards to the transaction and its purpose. In LG Electronics and other cases prior to Sony Ericson, the primary criteria that were adopted by the courted in ascertaining international transactions and unsaid understanding, were on the basis of proportionally higher expenses with reference to comparable i.e. the courts had adopted the Bright Line Test which had been deemed incompatible with the Income Tax Act of 1961

At a glance at most of the cases pertaining to this issue, the Revenue has resorted to proving the existence of international transactions on the basis of the Bright Line Test, and most of the revenue’s judgements also fail to highlight or prove the same, otherwise except for the unique cases in which the Assessee Domestic Associated Entity and the Foreign Associated Entity had a written agreement between the two of them. This issue is purely because of the lack of any regulatory or statutory provisions within the Income Tax Act, and this was also brought to attention by the court in Maruti Suzuki(2011). In the absence of Statutory provisions and the inability to apply the Bright Line Test because of the precedent in Sony Ericsson, it becomes impossible for the revenue in such cases, especially in the absence of a written or express agreement between the Domestic and Foreign Associated Entities, where it is forced to assess the Domestic Entity’s subjective intentions however this method was also rejected in Maruti Suzuki(2011).

While the decision in Sony Ericsson has left the Revenue and Courts baffled with regards to the method, they should use to ascertain international transactions in matters pertaining to AMP expenses, hopefully, this will finally come to a conclusion since it is currently being heard by the Country’s Apex Court. It is of the utmost importance for the Apex Court to elaborate upon the method and procedure that must be followed by the revenue in determining cases pertaining AMP expenses and issue guidelines for the same.

The origin of this dispute can be traced back to the United States Tax Court in the case of United States v. DHL Corporation, after the introduction of the US Regulations of 1968 which introduced an important concept pertaining to “Developer Assister Rules” as per which the entity which has incurred the AMP Expenses (Developer) would be treated as the economic owner of the brand which is being marketed even though it might not be its legal owner, and the legal owner of the Brand i.e., the Assister need not pay any compensation for the use of the brand by the developer. These regulations were grounded on the notion of equitable ownership of a brand on the basis of the fiscal expenditure and the risk incurred by them, and the legal ownership of the brand has not to be taken as one of the criteria for ascertaining who would be considered as the developer of the Brand or the intangible property in question.

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