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Columbia Sportswear Company vs. DIT (Karnataka High Court)

COURT:
CORAM: ,
SECTION(S): ,
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COUNSEL:
DATE: September 3, 2015 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: October 27, 2015 (Date of publication)
AY: -
FILE: Click here to download the file in pdf format
CITATION:
A liaison office of a foreign co which identifies a manufacturer in India, negotiates the price, helps in choosing raw material to be used, ensures compliance with quality and gets material tested is not a ‘permanent establishment’ under Article 5 of India-USA DTAA

The High Court had to consider the following questions:

(a) Whether the Indian liaison office involves a permanent arrangement for the application under Article 5.1 of the DTAA?

(b) Whether any portion of the income attributable to the liaison office on account of the activity of vendors co-operation of global production management and planning and equitable quality assurance strategy, quality development and is liable to tax?

HELD by the High Court:

(i) Section 9 of the Income-tax Act deals with income deemed to accrue or arise in India. It provides that all income accruing or arising, whether directly or indirectly, through or from any business connection in India, or through or from any property in India, or through or from any asset or source of income in India or through the transfer of a capital asset situate in India shall be deemed to accrue or arise in India. However, explanation 1(b) to the said Section carves out an exception. It provides that in the case of a non-resident, no income shall be deemed to accrue or arise in India to him through or from operations which are confined to the purchase of goods in India for the purpose of export. Therefore, it is clear that when a non-resident purchases goods in India for the purpose of export, no income accrues or arises in India for such non-resident for it to be taxed.

(ii) Under Article 7(1) of the Tax Convention with the Republic of India and the USA, it clear that if a permanent establishment carries on business of sales in India or other business activities of the same or similar kind through that permanent establishment, then only, the profits of the enterprise will be taxed. Therefore, there is no tax liability if purchase is made for the purpose of export. The permanent establishment referred to therein is also defined in Article 5. It provides that for the purposes of this convention, the term “permanent establishment” means a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on. It is an inclusive definition of what is included in the term ‘permanent establishment’ which is clearly set out in sub-article (2). However, sub-article (3) starts with a non-obstante clause. It makes it clear that the term ‘permanent establishment’ shall be deemed not to include any one or more of the following as set out in sub-article (3). Clause (d) of sub-article (3) speaks about the maintenance of a fixed place of business solely for the purpose of purchasing goods or merchandise, or of collecting information, for the enterprise. In other words if the permanent establishment is established for the purpose of purchasing goods or merchandise for the purpose of collecting information for the enterprise, it is not a permanent establishment as defined under Article 5(1) read with Article 7. According to the Advance Ruling Authority what sub-article 3(d) excludes is the place of business solely for the purpose of purchasing goods or of collecting information for the enterprise.

(iii) In the instant case, the liaison office of the petitioner identifies a competent manufacturer, negotiates a competitive price, helps in choosing the material to be used, ensures compliance with the quality of the material, acts as go-between, between the petitioner and the seller or the manufacturer, seller of the goods and even gets the material tested to ensure quality in addition to ensuring compliance with its policies and the relevant laws of India by the suppliers. Therefore, it is of the view that the aforesaid activities carried on by the liaison office, cannot be said to be an activity solely for the purpose of purchasing the goods or for collecting information for the enterprise. We find it difficult to accept this reasoning. If the petitioner has to purchase goods for the purpose of export, an obligation is cast on the petitioner to see that the goods, which are purchased in India for export outside India is acceptable to the customer outside India. To carry on that business effectively, the aforesaid steps are to be taken by the seller i.e., the petitioner. Otherwise, the goods, which are purchased in India may not find a customer outside India and therefore, the authority was not justified in recording a finding that those acts amounts to involvement in all the activities connected with the business except the actual sale of the products outside the country. In our considered information, all those acts are necessary to be performed by the petitioner – assessee before export of goods. Consequently, the reasoning of the authority that for the same reasons, the liaison office in question would qualify to be a permanent establishment in terms of Article 5 of the DTAA is also erroneous. That liaison office is established only for the purpose of carrying on business of purchasing goods for the purpose of export and all that activity also falls within the meaning of the words “collecting information” for the enterprise. In that view of the matter, we are of the view that the impugned order is unsustainable.

(The Commissioner of Income-tax V/s. Nike Inc in ITA No.976/2008 decided on 7th March, 2013, and Director of Income Tax Vs. M/s. Mondial Orient Ltd., in I.T.A. No.204/2010 decided on 9th June, 2013 followed)

Posted in All Judgements, High Court

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