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Unraveling Tax Strategies: Common Transfer Pricing Practices in India

By - King Stubb & Kasiva on February 9, 2024


Multinational corporations, amidst a rising tide of scrutiny and critique over their tax practices, primarily transfer pricing[1] to curtail tax liabilities, utilize this method as an allocation strategy for distributing revenues and costs among various subsidiaries situated in disparate countries.[2] The aim behind transfer pricing? It's simple; it strives towards equity by enforcing each subsidiary within the corporation to pay a justifiable fee for goods or services procured from its fellow sister entities. Transfer pricing, however, can serve as a tool to artificially reassign profits from nations with high tax rates to those with low ones; this strategy effectively reduces the company's overall tax obligations.[3]

Today's globalized economy offers multinational corporations (MNCs) the chance to diminish their tax burdens by capitalizing on varying tax rates across diverse jurisdictions; they often employ transfer pricing as a prevalent technique for reducing these liabilities. Transfer pricing involves assigning values to goods and services that are exchanged among various entities within an identical multinational group. MNCs, by manipulating transfer prices, have the ability to shift profits towards low-tax jurisdictions: this strategy effectively decreases their total tax obligations.

Nevertheless, despite its potential for legitimate use, some MNCs employ manipulative and abusive practices in transfer pricing. These actions not only decrease governmental tax revenues but also compromise fairness and integrity within our tax system. The focus of this article lies in a comprehensive examination of such common manipulative techniques utilized by multinational corporations for optimal taxation via transfer-pricing strategies.[4]


India delineates its transfer pricing regulations and guidelines in the Income Tax Act, 1961, along with the Transfer Pricing Regulations of 2001.[5] Some examples under Indian legislation include common transfer pricing practices, manipulative transfer pricing practices.

Common Transfer Pricing Practices in India:

The Comparable Uncontrolled Price Method:

The Comparable Uncontrolled Price Method is commonly used in India for transfer pricing. It works by comparing the price of a specific transaction between two affiliated entities with that of a similar transaction between unrelated parties.[6]

The Cost-Plus Method:

A subsidiary, in providing goods or services to another subsidiary, adds a markup to the actual cost it incurs. This method, the cost-plus approach is based on three key elements functions, assets and risks tied directly into the transaction.

The Resale Price Method:

It actively engages in determining the resale value of a product, which one subsidiary sells to another subsidiary. This determination occurs through the deduction of an appropriate gross margin from the price that this specific subsidiary offers unrelated parties for purchasing its products; thus, employing a method known as the "Resale Price."[7]

Measures to combat manipulative transfer pricing practices:

Transfer Pricing Regulations:

Many countries enforce transfer pricing regulations, compelling multinational corporations to adhere to specific methods and documentation requirements: these rules seek alignment between the actual value of goods or services being transferred - along with functions, assets, and risks within involved subsidiaries.[8]

Country-by-Country Reporting:

Multinational corporations must furnish meticulous data pertaining to their operations, profits, and taxes paid in every country where they conduct business; this information is instrumental for tax authorities. It allows them not only to pinpoint potential transfer pricing concerns but also initiates preventive actions against tax avoidance.

Advance Pricing Agreements:

Multinational companies and tax authorities strike Advance Pricing Agreements to lay down a solid transfer pricing plan for certain transactions. These agreements bring certainty to both sides, smoothing out potential conflicts over transfer pricing.[9]

Tax Audits:

Utilizing tax audits, authorities can identify potential transfer pricing issues and implement corrective action. They have the power to scrutinize multinational corporations' documentation and methodology regarding transfer pricing, evaluating whether the prices assigned for goods or services align with market rates.

International Cooperation:

Preventing manipulative transfer pricing practices necessitates international cooperation among tax authorities; thus, countries should actively share information on these practices. Further coordination of efforts to identify and address tax avoidance by multinational corporations is crucially imperative, a step that will undoubtedly strengthen the integrity of global taxation systems.[10]

Findings & Recommendations

This research reveals a significant suggestion: multinational corporations (MNCs), in an effort to reduce their tax obligations, may employ transfer pricing. Frequently utilizing manipulative and exploitative methods that relocate profits towards jurisdictions with lower taxes; these findings propose this trend. As a preventative measure against such abusive practices of transfer pricing, this article advocates for the following solutions:

  • Governments should enforce MNCs to heighten their transparency and disclosure standards, specifically by revealing their transfer pricing policies and offering comprehensive details on intra-group transactions.[11]
  • Tax authorities must foster enhanced coordination and cooperation. They ought to share information more effectively, align their efforts, all in a bid to tackle abusive transfer pricing practices.[12]
  • Governments ought to enforce stricter penalties and measures; they should not tolerate Multinational Corporations (MNCs) engaging in abusive transfer pricing practices.[13]
  • Transfer pricing system reforms: Governments ought to collaboratively reconstruct the transfer pricing system, guaranteeing that multinational corporations remit their equitable tax contributions and foster social and economic progress within their operating countries.[14]


This article underscores a critical necessity for reforms within the Transfer Pricing system. These adjustments are essential to guarantee that Multinational Corporations (MNCs), operating in various countries, pay their equitable share of taxes and foster social–economic development. The core objectives of these necessary alterations should be threefold—enhancing transparency, amplifying fairness, and thwarting manipulative/abusive practices[15]. Furthermore, they should foster collaboration amongst tax authorities. Governments can secure a scenario where MNCs don't exploit varying jurisdictional tax rates, ensuring they contribute an equitable portion to operating country's revenue, by implementing such solutions.

[1] OECD. (2013). Addressing Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. OECD Publishing.

[2] Palan, R., & Murphy, R. (2010). Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works. Cornell University Press.

[3] Chyz, J. A., & Cherednychenko, O. (2016). Transfer Pricing and State Aid: The Starbucks Decision. Tax Notes International, 81(13), 1181-1193.

[4] Avi-Yonah, R. S. (2014). The Rise and Fall of Arm's Length: A Study in the Evolution of US International Taxation. Michigan Law Review, 112(7), 1143-1185.

[5] Myles, G. D. (2018). Taxation: Policy and Practice. Pearson.

[6] Avi-Yonah, R. S., & Shanske, D. (2020). The European Union's Proposal for a Digital Services Tax: A Critique. Tax Notes International, 98(3), 279-286.

[7] Hines Jr, J. R., & Rice, E. M. (2018). Fiscal Paradise: Foreign Tax Havens and American Business. University of Chicago Press.

[8] Altshuler, R., Grubert, H., & Newlon, T. (2018). Has US Corporate Tax Reform Closed the Book on Profit Shifting?. National Tax Journal, 71(3), 553-572.

[9] Wei, X. (2016). Multinational Transfer Pricing and the Preference for Arm's Length Prices. Journal of International Economics, 103, 124-137.

[10] UNCTAD. (2021). Transfer Pricing and Development: A Handbook for Policy Makers and Practitioners in Developing Countries. UNCTAD.

[11] Mintz, J., & Weichenrieder, A. J. (2010). The Indirect Side of Direct Investment: Multinational Company Finance and Taxation. MIT Press.

[12] Guenther, D. A., Matsunaga, S. R., & Williams, B. M. (2014). Tax Avoidance and the Cross-Section of Stock Returns. Journal of Accounting Research, 52(1), 111-141.

[13] Kokkinaki, A. (2020). Transfer Pricing Documentation: A Comparative Study of the OECD and EU Approaches. Springer.

[14] Devereux, M. P., & Loretz, S. (2012). What Do We Know about Corporate Tax Competition?. National Tax Journal, 65(3), 493-527.

[15] Weichenrieder, A. J. (2015). Taxing the Financially Integrated Multinational Enterprise. International Tax and Public Finance, 22(6), 1068-1088.

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