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Meaning of Treaty:

In layman’s language, a treaty is a formally concluded agreement between two or more independent nations. The Oxford Companion to Law defines a treaty as “an international agreement, normally in written form, passing under various titles (treaty, convention, protocol, covenant, charter, pact, statute, act, declaration, concordat, exchange of notes, agreed minute, memorandum of agreement) concluded between two or more states, on subject of international law intended to create rights and obligations between them and governed by international law. Examples of treaty include CTBT, Vienna Convention, and Tax Treaty such as DTAA etc.

The Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA)

The Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) is essentially a bilateral agreement entered into between two countries. The basic objective is to promote and foster economic trade and investment between two Countries by avoiding double taxation.

Double Tax Avoidance Agreements (DTAA)

Objective of tax treaties:

International double taxation has adverse effects on the trade and services and on movement of capital and people. Taxation of the same income by two or more countries would constitute a prohibitive burden on the tax-payer. The domestic laws of most countries, including India, mitigate this difficulty by affording unilateral relief in respect of such doubly taxed income (Section 91 of the Income Tax Act). But as this is not a satisfactory solution in view of the divergence in the rules for determining sources of income in various countries, the tax treaties try to remove tax obstacles that inhibit trade and services and movement of capital and persons between the countries concerned. It helps in improving the general investment climate.

The double tax treaties (also called Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements or “DTAA”) are negotiated under public international law and governed by the principles laid down under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Need for DTAA

The need for Agreement for Double Tax Avoidance arises because of conflicting rules in two different countries regarding chargeability of income based on receipt and accrual, residential status etc. As there is no clear definition of income and taxability thereof, which is accepted internationally, an income may become liable to tax in two countries.

In such a case, the two countries have an Agreement for Double Tax Avoidance, in which case the possibilities are:

1. The income is taxed only in one country.

2. The income is exempt in both countries.

3. The income is taxed in both countries, but credit for tax paid in one country is given against tax payable in the other country.

In India, The Central Government, acting under Section 90 of the Income Tax Act, has been authorized to enter into double tax avoidance agreements (hereinafter referred to as tax treaties) with other countries.

Types of DTAA

DTAA can be of two types.

i. Comprehensive.

ii. Limited or

Comprehensive DTAAs are those which cover almost all types of incomes covered by any model convention. Many a time a treaty covers wealth tax, gift tax, surtax. Etc. too.

Limited DTAAs are those which are limited to certain types of incomes only, e.g. DTAA between India and Pakistan is limited to shipping and aircraft profits only.

Role of tax treaties in international tax planning

A tax treaty plays the following role:

1. Facilitates investment and trade flow, preventing discrimination between tax payers;

2. Adds fiscal certainty to cross border operations;

3. Prevents international evasion and avoidance of tax;

4. Facilitates collection of international tax;

5. Contributes attainment of international development goal, and

6. Avoids double taxation of income by allocating taxing rights between the source country where income arises and the country of residence of the recipient; thereby promoting cooperation between or amongst States in carrying out their obligations and guaranteeing the stability of tax burden.

Choice of Beneficial Provisions under DTAA/Tax laws

The Provisions of DTAA override the general provisions of taxing statute of a particular country. It is now well settled that in India the provisions of the DTAA override the provisions of the domestic statute. Moreover, with the insertion of Sec.90 (2) in the Indian Income Tax Act, it is clear that assessee have an option of choosing to be governed either by the provisions of particular DTAA or the provisions of the Income Tax Act, whichever are more beneficial.

For example under DTAA between Indian and Germany, tax on interest is specified @ 10% whereas under Income Tax Act it is 20%.  Hence, one can follow DTAA and pay tax @ 10%. Further if Income tax Act itself does not levy any tax on some income then Tax Treaty has no power to levy any tax on such income. Section 90(2) of the Income Tax Act recognizes this principle.

Models of DTAA

There are different models developed over a period of time based on which treaties are drafted and negotiated between two nations. These models assist in maintaining uniformity in the format of tax treaties. They also serve as checklist for ensuring exhaustiveness or provisions to the two negotiating countries.

OECD Model, UN Model, the US Model and the Andean Model are few of such models. Of these the first three are the most prominent and often used models. However, a final agreement could be combination of different models.

OECD Model- Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Model Double Taxation Convention on Income and on Capital, issued in 1977, 1992 and 1995

OECD Model is essentially a model treaty between two developed nations. This model advocates residence principle, that is to say, it lays emphasis on the right of state of residence to tax.

UN Model- United Nations Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries, 1980

The UN Model gives more weight to the source principle as against the residence principle of the OECD model. As a correlative to the principle of taxation at source the articles of the Model Convention are predicated on the premise of the recognition by the source country that (a) taxation of income from foreign capital would take into account expenses allocable to the earnings of the income so that such income would be taxed on a net basis, that (b) taxation would not be so high as to discourage investment and that (c) it would take into account the appropriateness of the sharing of revenue with the country providing the capital. In addition, the United Nations Model Convention embodies the idea that it would be appropriate for the residence country to extend a measure of relief from double taxation through either foreign tax credit or exemption as in the OECD Model Convention.

Most of India’s treaties are based on the UN Model.

United States Model Income Tax Convention of September, 1996.

The US Model is different from OECD and UN Models in many respects. US Model has established its individuality through radical departure from usual treaty clauses under OECD Model and UN Model.

General Features of DTAA

1) Language used by Treaties

Tax Treaties employ standard International language and standard terms. This is done in order to understand and interpret the same term in the same manner by both assessee as well as revenue. Language employed is technical and stereotyped. Some of the terms are explained below:

i. Contracting State – country which enters into Treaty

ii.  State of Residence- Country where a person resides

iii. State of Source- Country where income arises

iv. Enterprise of a Contracting State- Any taxable unit (including individuals of a Contracting State)

v. Permanent Establishment – A fixed base of an enterprise in the state of Source (usually a branch of a foreign company and in some cases wholly – owned subsidiaries as well)

vi. Income arising in Contracting state – Income arising in a State of a source

One has to read the treaty carefully in order to understand its provisions in their proper perspective. The best way to understand the DTAA is to compare it with an agreement of partnership between two persons. In partnership, the words used are “the party of the first part” and in the DTAA, the words used are “the other contracting state” .One can also replace the words” Contracting States” by names of the respective countries and read the DTAA again , for better understanding.

2) Composition of a comprehensive DTA

Double Tax Avoidance agreements are divided under following heads

Article No. Heading Content
1 Scope of the Convention To whom applicable?
2 Taxes covered Specific taxes covered
3 General definition Persons, company enterprises, international traffic, competent authority
4 Resident ‘Residence’ of a contracting state who can access treaty
5 Permanent Establishment What constitutes P.E.?What does not constitute P.E?
6 Income from Immovable Property Immovable property and income there from
7 Business Profits Determination and taxation of profits arising from business carried on through P.E.
8 Shipping, Inland waterways & Air Transport Place of deemed accrual of profits arising from activities and mode of taxation thereon
9 Associated Enterprises Enterprises under common management and taxation of profits owing to close connection (other than transactions of arm’s length nature )
10 Dividend Definition and taxation of dividends;Concessional rate of tax in certain situations;
11 Interest Definition and taxation of interest;Concessional rate of tax in certain situations;Taxation of interest paid in excess of reasonable rate, on account of special relationship;
12 Royalties Definition of Royalties- what it includes and covers, and its taxation;Treatment of excessive payment of royalties due to special relationship;Country where taxable.
13 Capital Gains Definition- Taxation aspect;Concessional rates/exemption from tax if any;Country where taxable.
14 Independent Personal Services Types of services covered;Country where taxable.
15 Dependent Personal Services DefinitionCountry where taxable.
16 Directors Fees and Remuneration for Top Level Managerial official DefinitionMode of Country where taxable.
17 Income earned by entertainer and athletes Types of activities covered;Mode of Country where taxable.
18 Pension and social security payments Country where taxable.
19 Remuneration and pensions in respect of government services Types of remuneration and Country where taxable.
20 Payment received by students and apprentices Taxation / Exemption of payments received by student and apprentices.
21 Other Income Residual Article to cover income not covered under other ‘Articles’, mode of taxation and country where taxable
22 Capital (Tax on wealth) Definition – made – and country where taxable
23 Method of elimination Exemption Method / Credit Method
24 Non Discrimination (Equitable) Basis of taxing Nationals and citizens of foreign state
25 Mutual Agreement Procedure Where taxation is not as per provisions of the convention, a ‘person’ may present his case to Competent Authorities of respective states.Procedure in such cases
26 Exchange of Information Competent Authorities to exchange information for carrying out provisions of the convention.Methodology.
27 Assistance in collection of taxes
28 Diplomatic agents and Consular corps (Officers) Privileges of this category to remain unaffected
29 Territorial Extension
30 Entry into force Effective date from which convention comes into force;Assessment year from which it comes into force.
31 Termination Time – Notice period – Mode.

 Overall Preview of the Model Convention

In general terms, the Articles of a convention can be divided into six groups for the purpose of analyses:

1. Scope Provisions: these include Article 1 (Personal scope), 2 (Taxes covered), 30 (Entry into force) and 31 (Termination). These provisions determine the persons, taxes and time period covered by a treaty.

2. Definition provisions: these include Article 3 (General Definitions), 4(Residence) and 5 (Permanent Establishment) as well as the definitions of terms in some of the substantive provisions (e.g. the definition of “immovable property” in Article 6(2)).

3. Substantive Provisions: these are the Articles between article 6 and 22 which apply to particular categories of income, capital gains or capital and allocate taxing jurisdiction between the two Contracting States.

4. Provisions for elimination of double taxation: this is primarily Article 23. Article 25(Mutual Agreement) could also be placed in this category.

5. Anti-avoidance provisions: these include Article 9 (Associated Enterprises) and 26 (Exchange of information).

6. Miscellaneous Provisions: this final category includes Articles such as 24(Non-Discrimination), 28 (Diplomats) and 29 (Territorial Extension).

How to apply DTAA

The process of operation of a double taxation convention can be divided into a series of steps, involving the different types of provisions.

1. Determine if the issue is within the scope of the convention:

This involves determining firstly whether the taxpayer is within the personal scope in Article 1- that is, “persons who are residents of one or both Contracting States”. This may involve confirming that the taxpayer is a “person” within in the definition of Article 3(1) (a); it will involve confirming that the taxpayer is resident of a Contracting State according to Article 4(1).

2. Check that the treaty applies to the tax in issue- is it a tax listed in Article 2 (or a tax substantially similar to such a tax).

3. Thirdly, check that the treaty is in operation for the taxable period in issue – that the treaty is in force (Article 29) and has not been terminated (Article 30).

4. Apply the relevant definitions: At this stage the relevant definition provisions (if any) can be applied. Thus, for example, if the taxpayer is a resident of both Contracting States, the tiebreakers in Article 4(2) and (3) have to be applied to determine a single residence for treaty purposes, similarly, if it is necessary to decide whether the taxpayer has a permanent establishment in a state, then Article 5 is relevant.

5. Determine which of the substantive provisions apply: The substantive provisions apply to different categories of income, capital gains or capital; it is necessary to determine which applies. This is a process of characterization. In many cases this may be straightforward; in others the task may not be easy. For example, payments, which are referred to as “royalties”, may in fact fall under Article 7 (Business Profits), 12 (Royalties), 13 (Capital Gains) or 14 (Independent Personal Services). Assistance in characterizing the items can be gained from the Commentaries, case law and reports of the Committee on Fiscal Affairs

6. Apply the substantive article: Substantive articles generally take one of three forms

(i)The state of source may tax without limitation. Examples are: income from house property situated in that state, and business profits derived from a permanent establishment there.

(ii) The state source may tax up to a maximum: here the treaty sets a ceiling to the level of taxation at source. Examples in the OECD Models are: dividends from companies resident in that state and interest derived from there.

(iii)  The state of source may not tax: here, the state of residence of the tax payer alone has jurisdiction to tax. Examples in the OECD Model are: business profit where there is no permanent establishment in the state of source.

7. Apply the provisions for the elimination of double taxation : Every one of the substantive articles must be considered along with article 23 which sets out the methods for the elimination of double taxation.

Case Laws

Ishikawajma Harima Heavy Industries Limited vs. Director of Income Tax, Mumbai Dt. 04/01/2007

In this case, the company was incorporated in Japan. It formed a consortium with four others and entered into an agreement with an Indian firm, Petronet LNG Ltd  for setting up liquefied natural gas receiving and degasification facility in Gujarat. Each member of the consortium was to receive separate payments. The contract involved offshore supply, offshore services, onshore supply, onshore services, construction and erection. The price was payable for offshore supply and services in US dollars, whereas that of onshore supply as also services, construction and erection partly in dollars and partly in rupees.

The dispute arose whether the amounts received by the Japanese corporation from Petronet for offshore supply of equipment and materials were liable to tax under the Indian Income Tax Act and the India-Japan double taxation avoidance treaty. The Authority for Advance Rulings (Income Tax) ruled that the Japanese firm was liable to pay direct tax, even under the treaty. Hence the firm moved the Supreme Court.  It argued that the transactions occurred outside the country. The contract was a divisible one and therefore it did not have any liability to pay tax in regard to offshore services and offshore supply. The government, on the other hand, contended that the contract was a composite one. The supply of goods, whether offshore or onshore, and rendition of service were attributable to the turnkey project.

The Supreme Court ultimately held that the tribunal was wrong and set aside its order.  While the Japanese firm got relief in the case, the judgment is notable for the principles it has laid down to be followed in such cases. Regarding offshore supply of equipment and materials, the Supreme Court laid down nine guidelines in the context of this case, but has general application.


1. Only such part of the income as attributable to the operations carried out in this country can be taxed here.

2. If all parts of the transfer of goods as well as the payment are carried on outside the country, the transaction cannot be taxed in India.

3. The principle of apportionment, wherein the territorial jurisdiction of a particular state determines its capacity to tax an event, has to be followed.

4. The fact that a contract was signed in India is of no material consequence, if the activities in connection with the offshore supply were outside the country and therefore cannot be deemed to accrue or arise in this country.

5. The court further clarified that there was a distinction between a business connection and a permanent establishment. The latter is for the purpose of assessment of income of a non-resident under a double taxation avoidance agreement while the former is for the application of the Income Tax Act.  As far as offshore services are concerned, the court stated that sufficient territorial nexus between the rendition of services and territorial limits of India is necessary to make the income taxable. The entire contract would not be attributable to the operations in India. The test of residence, as applied in the international law also, is that of the tax payer and not that of the recipient of such services.

6. Regarding Section 9(1)(vii)(c) of the Income Tax Act, dealing with income by way of fees for technical services by a non-resident, the Supreme Court clarified that the services should not only be utilized within India but also be rendered in India or have such a “live link” with India that the entire income became taxable here.

7. Applying the principle of apportionment to composite transactions which have some operations in one territory and some in others, it is essential to determine the taxability of various operations. The location of the source of income within India would not render sufficient nexus to tax the income from that source.

8. There exists a difference between the existence of a business connection and the income accruing or arising out of such business connection.

9. For the profits to be ‘attributable directly or indirectly’, the permanent establishment must be involved in the activity giving rise to the profits.

These guidelines are bound to stand in good stead while dealing with the complex international contracts which are increasingly becoming more common due to globalization.

Websites for reference:

1) Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-

2)United Nations Model Double Taxation Convention between Developed and Developing Countries, 1980-

3) United States Model Income Tax Convention of September, 1996 :-

4) National website of the Income Tax Department of India-

Click here to Read/Download Other Articles/Books written by CA Rajkumar S. Adukia

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a legal opinion and are personal views of the author. It is based upon relevant law and/or facts available at that point of time and prepared with due accuracy & reliability. Readers are requested to check and refer to relevant provisions of statute, latest judicial pronouncements, circulars, clarifications etc before acting on the basis of the above write up.  The possibility of other views on the subject matter cannot be ruled out. By the use of the said information, you agree that Author / TaxGuru is not responsible or liable in any manner for the authenticity, accuracy, completeness, errors or any kind of omissions in this piece of information for any action taken thereof. This is not any kind of advertisement or solicitation of work by a professional.

(Republished with Amendments by Team Taxguru)

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  1. Jyoti says:

    Dear Sir, we had provided services to one of our client in Zambia & raised our invoice in $. Now we came to know that the client stated that he will make the payment after deduction of Tax.However we are also liable to pay income tax for the income expected from the above mentioned service. In this case we are supposed to pay double tax for the same income. can you please advise us to avoid such double taxation. I want to know how to process for DTAA from India

  2. George Thomas says:

    My NRI status changed to Resident with effect from 6th January 2017. I was working in Saudi Arabia where there is no Income Tax.
    Now LIC has sent a letter to asking me to produce certificate from my country of Residence that my Income is not taxed there, failing which 30% Income Tax will be deducted from the Annuity from Jeevan Akshay policy.
    My request to deduct 10% was not answered by the service Branch of LIC at Thiruvalla and they are also ignorant on this.
    Kindly advise.

  3. ANIL MANGOL says:


  4. R Samtani says:

    I am a PIO resident in India, both physically & for tax purposes. I am entitled to receive a pension from an overseas company for my services rendered while I was employed by them abroad. I have the option of asking them to transfer a cash equivalent value to a qrops approved pension plan in India. Will I be liable to pay income tax on the corpus transferred to an pension plan insurance policy in india? Please advice.

  5. Rajagopal S says:

    Dear Sir

    Are there any decided cases both in US Supreme Court and India Supreme Court in respect of personal taxation under DTAA between India and US?


  6. Shri says:

    Wonder if anyone can share thought on this dilemna I face. I am an European national living in India for >5 yrs (OCI Card) and have paid taxes (crores in the last few years) in India as an Indian resident. Since I am now retired, I do not have any income in India for this year except for bank interest and Indian dividends from mutual funds etc. latter being paid to me net of taxes. All my capital gains (ST and LT) from my many investments can be adjusted against prior year capital losses. My expenses/deductions under 80C, 80CCF, 80D, 80GG and the 10,000 interest deduction from this year are high enough that I calculate a refund in India, if I take credit for the taxes paid abroad under DTAA. My foreign income is primarily from dividends and bank interest. Taxes get withheld at source abroad at ca. 15%-25% on my dividends depending on country. Now since I will not have paid any taxes to the Indian government this year, my global “taxable income” being low enough that my foreign taxes deducted at source is already higher than taxes owed in India on global income, would I get a refund from the indian authorities for taxes that were essentially paid abroad. How does this refund get treated?

  7. ASHOK says:

    Need you help me prepare 15CB form and 15CA urgently for wire transfer  that i need to send out from my account to  a company account in China first thing on monday 21/5/12  morning i have my PAN number but am presently in USA i need this done first in the morning how can you help me?

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April 2024