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Brazil – Cost Sharing with Company Domiciled Abroad

1. Characterisation of shared services as reimbursement

The payment of costs and expenses shared between companies of the same economic group, with headquarters in different countries, may be treated as a mere reimbursement without the incidence of a high tax burden on payment or receipt. However, in order for such costs and expenses to be characterised in Brazil as a reimbursement, certain requirements must be complied with.

First of all, to be treated as a reimbursement the costs and expenses must relate to supporting activities rather than core activities of the service provider. Thus, services that are included in the corporate purpose of the service provider may not be shared, and consequently the costs and expenses thereof cannot be treated as a reimbursement.

For this reason, it is only possible to recognise as a reimbursement of shared costs and expenses those actually incurred by the service provider. It is therefore not permitted to add any amount or profit margin to the costs or expenses shared and reimbursed.

Moreover, in order for the costs and expenses to be recognised as a reimbursement, it must be shown unequivocally that the services shared are of mutual benefit to the companies that participate in the agreement. Accordingly, all the companies must benefit from the services shared, including those performing the services.

With a view to proving compliance with the minimum conditions required, it is necessary to have, apart from other documents, a formal contract between the companies of the group, showing the total costs of each service incurred and shared, and also the reasonable and objective criteria used for the division.

The minimum requirements of the said contract were set out in Cosit Answer to Consultation no. 8/12 of which, in spite of its technicality, it is worth citing the following:

  • a) the division of the costs and risks inherent to the development, production or obtaining of goods, services or rights must be detailed;
  • b) the contribution of each company must be consistent with the individual benefits expected or actually received;
  • c) the identification of the specific benefit to each company of the group must be clear;
  • d) there must be an agreement for reimbursement, meaning the refund of costs relating to the effort or sacrifice incurred in the carrying out of an activity, without any additional profit;
  • e) the collective nature of the advantage offered to all the companies of the group must be express;
  • f) there must be a provision for remuneration of the activities, irrespective of their actual use, it being sufficient to “put the activities at the disposal” of the other companies of the group;
  • g) the conditions must be such that any company, in the same circumstances, would be interested in contracting.

In short, the contract must state the total cost or expense that benefits the signatory companies; the criteria for its division, each company necessarily defraying only the benefits actually expected or gained, with the possibility of their identification; and further it must state the manner in which reimbursement of the cost or expense will be made, with the supposition that it will be attractive even for independent companies.

Although the amounts classified as reimbursement of costs and expenses do not reflect any financial gain, which is sufficient to justify the non-incidence of taxation, the Brazilian Federal Revenue has still not adopted a firm position to this effect.

2.1. Payments abroad

Generally speaking, payments, credits or remittances abroad relating to the provision of services are subject to Withholding Income Tax (IRRF) of 15%, the Contribution on Economic Activities (CIDE) of 10%, the Contribution for the Financing of Social Security payable by the Importer of Foreign Goods or Services from Abroad (COFINS-Importation) of 7.6% and the Contribution for the Social Integration Programme and Civil Servants’ Investment Programme due on the Importation of Foreign Products or Services (PIS/PASEP-Importation) of 1.65%. The Tax on Financial Operations (IOF) of 0.38% is due in any case. The Tax on Services (ISS), with the maximum rate of 5%, may also be demanded by the municipality.

The IRRF paid in Brazil may be taken as a credit abroad if there exists a double taxation convention with the country in question, or, at least, reciprocity of treatment.

It is worth mentioning that, in the event of a remittance of funds abroad in payment of services, the financial institutions involved are also responsible for the operation, for which reason they tend to confirm the need to pay the taxes due on the operation in order to avoid any risks.

2.2. Cash receipts from abroad

Payments received by the Brazilian company for services shared may be regarded as corresponding to services exported. In this case, the funds received from companies abroad, in the form of foreign currency, would not be subject to PIS and COFINS on the amount invoiced. In any case, if they are recognised as remuneration for services rendered, they would be subject to IRPJ and CSLL. The ISS on the services may also be demanded by the municipality in question.

3. Possible risks and means for their reduction/elimination

As already stated, the Brazilian Federal Revenue has not confirmed its attitude regarding the non-taxation of payments relating to costs and expenses shared and reimbursed. As a result, in operations involving remittances abroad, the financial institutions normally require to see proof of payment of taxes.

If it is intended to avoid paying tax, and with a view to reducing, and even eliminating, possible risks, it is important that the operations be properly formalised. It must be possible to show, by producing solid evidence, that the funds received from, or paid to, the related party refer to the recovery of expenses incurred for the benefit of another, so as not to generate income/earnings for the recipient.

The contracts signed must contain details sufficient to prove compliance with the requirements necessary for characterisation of the reimbursement, with the resulting non-taxation, and all the supporting documentation must be retained.

An alternative, in order to guarantee the position of the Brazilian Federal Revenue, in principle and preferably in favour of the non-incidence of tax, is the submission of a formal consultation with a view to confirming the interpretation applicable to the case.

Specifically for operations involving remittances abroad of sums relating to the costs and expenses shared, it is possible that, even on production of the contract signed between the companies of the group, together with all supporting documentation, and further even presenting the formal consultation to the public authorities, the financial institution may not agree to make the remittance without payment of the tax.

In this event, a declaration may also be produced to the financial institution, in which the company making the remittance assumes the obligation to inform the institution immediately of the result of the formal consultation, as soon as a reply is received from the Federal Revenue, and also to comply with the result thereof, if necessary, with payment of tax on the operation.

We consider that, provided the above requirements are met, the risks may be reduced or even eliminated.

We are available to assist persons interested in any issues involving this matter.

Patrícia Giacomin Pádua
Partner in the Tax Area – São Paulo
[email protected]

Brazil – Retention of title in international business

We commonly find, in contracts for the purchase and sale of movable property, and even in more generic documents (for example in General Conditions of Sale), the existence of the so-called “retention of title” (reserva de domínio) clause, the purpose of which is to ensure that the seller continues as owner of the goods sold until the price for the said goods has been paid in full by the purchaser.

Although the insertion of such a clause in credit sales is a common practice and is even to be recommended, it is important to emphasise that the contractual provision of a retention of title clause does not by itself guarantee the protection desired, and may not produce the practical effect expected.

Brazilian law contains certain rules that must be complied with in order for the title retention clause to be effective, but many international contracts do not in fact observe such rules, which can cause disagreeable surprises for the seller when it tries to exercise its rights in relation to the retention of title.

In most cases, this occurs because foreign sellers simply enter into contracts and/or establish general conditions of sale based on their own laws, and choose to submit any disputes to the jurisdiction of their own country.

It is understandable that the foreign seller may often prefer to choose the law and jurisdiction of its own country in order to govern its contracts, on the assumption that such choice offers it more facilities and security. However, in matters involving international business, this may prove to be a serious problem if the seller is not aware of the legal rules that exist in the country of the purchaser.

In this respect, it should be pointed out that, in certain cases, the simple choice of foreign law and jurisdiction may not be the best option, even though foreign companies may have the false impression that such option will always be the one that best meets their interests. It must be remembered that, taking as an example a retention of title clause, any legal action to recover possession of the goods in the event of the purchaser’s default, will take place in the country of the purchaser, and for this reason it is essential to know whether such action is likely to cause conflict with the laws of that country.

In Brazil, the choice of law in itself is frequently the subject of controversy and must be considered on a case-by-case basis, since Brazilian law imposes certain restrictions on the parties’ freedom of choice on this topic. There are cases where there exists an imposition of the law of the country of the offeror, while in others there are special Brazilian laws regarded as being rules of public policy.

The choice of forum must also be considered very carefully, because even if it is possible to take advantage of a foreign jurisdiction, it must be remembered that any foreign decision needs to undergo a process of validation by the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice in order to be recognised and be enforceable in Brazil, which could lengthen the procedure.

With specific reference to the retention of title, Brazilian law establishes, among other requirements, that the contract containing such clause must be registered at a notary’s office (Deeds and Documents Registry) of the purchaser’s domicile, within a period of 20 days as from its signature. Late registration does not invalidate the contract, but retention of title is only effective as from such registration.

If the contract is written in a foreign language, it is also necessary to have the document officially translated into Portuguese by a sworn public translator before applying for registration.

Absence of registration of the contract at a notary’s office does not guarantee protection to the seller, whether vis-à-vis the purchaser or third parties. Thus, the seller cannot claim the property if the purchaser has sold it to a third party, or pledged it to a third party as security, or if the seller becomes insolvent, as in cases of judicial restructuring, where the clause will not be effective against other creditors, and the seller may end up as an unsecured creditor.

Apart from the need to register the contract at a notary’s office, it is also essential to put the debtor officially in default, by notification or protest of the “security”, as only then will the seller be able to claim recovery of the property. Here too there is another peculiarity of Brazilian law, since the exercise of the right to repossess goods sold subject to retention of title presupposes the existence of a debt represented by an enforceable instrument (for example, a promissory note, bill of exchange or even a contract containing characteristics of an enforceable instrument under Brazilian law).

In addition, Brazilian law now allows contracts to establish the rules relating to procedural matters that may arise between the parties and, in this respect, it is recommended that contracts containing a title retention clause provide, for example, for the possibility of search and seizure of the goods in the event of non-payment, the manner of appraising the goods for the purpose of calculating a debit balance, who will be responsible for the cost of such appraisal, the possibility of sale or assignment of the goods to a third party to avoid the risk of deterioration, among others.

Apart from the measures referred to above, special care must be taken when General Conditions of Sale are concerned. This is because such documents have a generic characteristic and, unlike specific contracts of purchase and sale, do not contain a description of the merchandise, which is essential for the effectiveness of the retention of title, because the Brazilian Civil Code stipulates that “An object that cannot be described perfectly cannot be the subject-matter of a sale with retention of title”. In principle, there exist means of complying with the legal requirements even in cases of retention of title in General Conditions of Sale (for example, registration of the said general conditions together with the invoice containing a description of the merchandise sold, inclusion of an express reference to the general conditions in the invoice itself, among others), but this must be evaluated in each specific case.

These brief comments make it clear that protection of the seller’s rights as regards title to the goods requires more careful consideration than the mere inclusion of a retention of title clause. A wider examination of the issue is always to be recommended, taking into consideration the peculiarities of the laws of the country of the purchaser, in order to ensure maximum legal protection for the seller.

Frederico Amaral Filho and Charles Wowk

Associate lawyer and Partner in the Civil Area – São Paulo

[email protected] and [email protected]