The Treasury Department yesterday renounced the tax treaty between the United States and the Netherlands Antilles, ending a tax haven that had allowed companies to borrow money at reduced interest rates until 1984.
The decision, which will have the effect of imposing a 30 percent withholding tax on pre-1984 Eurobonds issued through Antilles-based companies, could induce some issuers to call in their outstanding affected bonds. However, analysts said they doubted the effects would be significant because the bonds constitute a relatively small portion of the gigantic Eurobond market.
The Treasury gave no public explanation for terminating the tax treaty, which will expire Jan. 1. Officials pointed out, however, that efforts over eight years to renegotiate the treaty had failed.
The 1986 tax-revision law included several provisions that the Netherlands Antilles had hoped to address during the treaty negotiations. The announcement was made six months before the treaty's expiration to give investors time to alter their portfolios, officials said.
"We could not achieve certain concessions and we could not accept the broader language that the Netherlands Antilles folks wanted," one official said.
A spokesman at the embassy of the Netherlands, which controls the Antilles, would not comment yesterday because officials in Europe could not be reached.
Before 1984, the Antilles offered U.S. companies an appealing way to raise funds in the Euromarket at below-market rates. Normally, foreign investors owning U.S. bonds were subject to a 30 percent withholding tax. But if the funds were raised through Antilles-based offerers, the treaty exempted the interest from the tax.
Hearings by the commerce, consumer and monetary affairs subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee concluded in 1983 that the Antilles pact was, in the words of a staff member, "the most widely used tax treaty in the world for tax-evasion purposes." In 1984, $2.8 billion in U.S. interest payments flowed through the six-island territory to foreign investors, more than was received by any other country except Britain.
Partly in response to the tax-evasion objections, Congress repealed the withholding tax in 1984. The issue was the subject of intense lobbying, with powerhouses J.D. Williams and Charls E. Walker representing the Antilles. Legislators agreed to phase in the change, and they made it prospective: bonds issued before the time of action -- July 19, 1984 -- remained exempt from the tax. The tax differential allowed issuers to pay about 0.5 percentage point less than the market rate and still sell the bonds, analysts said. Once the bonds become subject to the tax as a result of the treaty renunciation, issuers may be tempted to call them in -- the bonds generally can be called in if tax laws change -- to refinance them at today's lower interest rates.
A company's decision on whether to call in its bonds, however, likely will depend on a number of factors, including whether it has the cash to redeem them and whether they are valued at face value in the market, experts said. Even if a sizable proportion of the bonds are called in, the market as a whole is not considered likely to be severely affected