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Trump is threatening France over its digital tax – these countries could be next

Key Points
  • The Trump administration is investigating France over its 3% digital tax on big tech companies.
  • Countries including the U.K., Spain, Italy and Austria are still moving forward with their own tech taxes.
  • An EU-wide effort to implement a digital tax failed last year.
VIDEO4:1404:14
What is a digital tax?

President Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on France over its plan to tax big U.S. tech firms like Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

The law, which was approved by the French Senate in July, imposes a 3% tax on companies that make at least 750 million euros ($834 million) in worldwide revenues from "digital activities," including 25 million euros ($28 million) from within France. The tax will retroactively apply from January 1, 2019.

But France isn't the only country pushing for a digital tax on tech giants. Other governments across Europe are moving forward with their own levies on Big Tech as the global effort to modernize the tax system stalls.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed in May to address the tax challenges "arising from digitalization of the economy." Still the group has said it won't reach a unified solution on taxes until the end of 2020. Meanwhile an EU-wide effort to pass a digital tax failed last year amid opposition from countries like Ireland and the Netherlands.

"The trouble is getting everybody to agree to one thing takes a lot longer, and of course that creates an awful lot of frustration," said Chris Southworth, secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce in the U.K., in a CNBC interview last month.

Here's a look at the countries proposing their own digital taxes.

United Kingdom

The U.K. government initially proposed its own digital tax in October and released an updated proposal last month. The measure targets three types of large multinational companies: social media platforms, internet search engines or online marketplaces.

Like the French law, Britain's tax targets big tech companies that derive "significant" revenues from digital activities. The 2% tax applies to the U.K. revenues of companies that make £500 million globally, with at least £25 million in Britain.

The U.K. government says the tax would apply to revenue earned from April 1, 2020 and would raise up to £440 million by 2023.

"This measure will ensure large multinational businesses make a fair contribution to supporting vital public services," the legislation said.

VIDEO2:0702:07
US to probe France's plan to tax tech giants like Google and Apple

Italy

Italy introduced a 3% digital services tax as part of its 2019 budget. According to accounting firm KPMG, the tax would apply to three specific types of services: digital advertising, digital interfaces that allow users "to buy/sell goods and services" and the transmission of user data on a digital platform. In other words, Google, Amazon and Facebook are prime targets.

Italy has long been a big advocate of higher tax rates for internet firms. In 2017, the country passed a "web tax" targeting big tech firms, though the measure never went into effect.

The new 3% tax is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2021.

VIDEO1:3101:31
We need digital taxation at OECD level, French finance minister says

Spain

In February, the Spanish Parliament rejected a budget bill that included a 3% digital tax, known as the "Google Tax," on the revenues of large tech companies.

It would have applied to companies with 750 million euros in worldwide revenues, including 3 million in Spain, a lower threshold than in other European countries. Spain had said the measure would raise up to $1.37 billion per year, a figure that the European Commission questioned.

Consultancy EY said in a report earlier this year Spain's digital services tax, or a similar measure, cannot be ruled out in the "short to medium term."

Austria

Austria's efforts to impose a digital tax are aimed at online advertising.

In September, the National Council, Austria's lower house, is scheduled to vote on draft legislation that would apply a 5% tax on the online advertising revenues of tech firms. The Austrian government said the tax could add up to 200 million euros in revenues.

— Reuters contributed to this report

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