Hi-Tech Coffee

By Global Tax Weekly

Coffee, anyone, with your double Irish Dutch sandwich? That’ll be Starbucks, then, especially if you’re at say Oxford Circus or Trafalgar Square. The firm has announced that it is moving its European HQ from the Netherlands to the UK. Although the company was fairly unclear about its motives, it can’t be irrelevant that the UK’s corporate tax rate will be down to 20 percent from next year, while the Netherlands sticks with its 25 percent rate and has no plans to reduce it. Of course, that’s not the whole story: the Dutch withholding tax regime is hard to beat, although the UK’s participation exemption is by now not that different from the Dutch regime; and the Dutch patent box rate of 5 percent is still much better than the UK’s 10 percent rate. I would not have guessed that serving coffee is such an R&D-heavy business, but lift the lid on an expresso and you are confronting a miracle of modern science, it seems. It’s difficult to know where that process ends: the cups are probably coated in a proprietary stain-resistant glaze, developed at vast expense in an underground laboratory in Newcastle-on-Tyne; the ergonomically perfected chairs are made to be just that tiny bit uncomfortable so that you don’t stay too long with your cooling coffee (the glaze on the inside is heat-absorbing, while on the outside it is an efficient black-body radiator); and the sandwiches, well I won’t even start to try to understand, whether they are bread ones or tax-efficient ones. Presumably both. At all events, a bouquet to George Osborne, even if his Treasury has brought out some fairly unpleasant anti-taxpayer initiatives lately. Well, he would call then anti-non-taxpayer initiatives, I guess. Difficult to know whether Starbucks executives will welcome the hop across the Channel; the Dutch personal tax system is quite a bit nastier than the equivalent English one, and there is not much contest in cultural terms. They’ll be digging deep into their savings to live in London, though, so watch those bonuses go up next year.

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