NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Zealand's Experience with Territorial Taxation

July 1, 2013

The Tax Foundation has published a series of case studies that focus on the international trend of countries transitioning to territorial taxation. The latest study covers New Zealand's territorial tax system that was implemented in 2009.

  • Territorial tax systems exempt the taxes of foreign profits of multinational corporations based on geographical locations.
  • The system first distinguishes between active and passive income of controlled foreign corporations, then exempts active foreign income from New Zealand tax while continuing to tax passive foreign income as it is earned.

In 2009, New Zealand implemented a territorial tax system much like that found in other developed countries. This system first distinguishes between the active and passive income of controlled foreign corporations (CFCs), where passive income is basically investment income such as dividends, interests, royalties and rents, and active income is everything else. Second, it exempts active foreign income entirely from New Zealand tax while continuing to tax passive foreign income as it is earned. In 2012, New Zealand extended the exemption system to controlling investments in all foreign companies, not just CFCs.

What is interesting about this policy change is not just that New Zealand became one of the latest countries to move to a territorial tax system but also that it was essentially a return to the territorial system that existed in New Zealand from 1891 to 1988. Indeed, New Zealand was the first developed country to have a territorial tax system. In 1988, New Zealand moved to a worldwide tax system without deferral, meaning all foreign income of CFCs was subject to New Zealand tax as it was earned, regardless of whether it was repatriated or remained abroad.

Reasons for reform:

  • To bring New Zealand's tax rules into line with the practice of other countries.
  • Help New Zealand-based businesses to compete more effectively in foreign markets.
  • Improve the competitiveness of New Zealand's tax system.
  • Encourage businesses with international operations to establish, remain and expand in New Zealand.

New Zealand's poor economic performance under worldwide taxation is testament to the economic importance of foreign investment.  When firms increase foreign investment and wages, they also increase domestic investment and wages. New Zealand is one of only two developed countries that switched from a territorial tax system to a worldwide system and then returned to a territorial tax system for competitive reasons.

Source: William McBride, "New Zealand's Experience with Territorial Taxation," Tax Foundation, June 19, 2013.


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