A non-resident company that participates in business being carried out in, or managed from, Norway will be liable to pay tax. However, an exemption to this rule exists. The exemption results in non-Norwegian shipowners not being liable to tax in Norway on shipping income – even if the shipping business is managed from Norway – provided that certain conditions are met.
In the existing financial climate, there is an emerging trend for yards to provide their buyers with a new form of sellers' credit – by participating with equity in the project companies that are ordering newbuilds. The choice of corporate entity and its jurisdiction can have both favourable and detrimental tax consequences for the different participants.
The Norwegian tonnage tax regime stands out as one of the most favourable and competitive in the world today. It provides a stable and attractive option for ship owners and operators. Their growing confidence is demonstrated by the fact that the Norwegian tonnage tax regime currently has more vessels registered than any other regime.
The 2007 overhaul of the Norwegian tonnage tax regime proved controversial, with lawsuits following the government's decision to tax retrospectively income that was previously tax exempt. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling that this should be reversed has since restored confidence in the regime. All in all, the Norwegian tax package has become very competitive and shipowners are showing increased interest as a result.
It has been predicted that most Norwegian shipping companies will enter the country’s new tonnage tax regime but will leave at an opportune time. It will require companies to pay deferred taxes, which will cost the industry NKr21 billion ($3.9billion). A number of law firms are already considering challenging the government through the legal system.
The committee appointed by the government to assess the tonnage tax regime has made two general recommendations: to abolish the tax incentives under the tonnage tax regime and extend the controlled foreign companies (CFC) legislation. However, the countereffect of an extension of the CFC legislation would be limited, as shipping investors could still achieve a beneficial tax position in the European Union.