The Interpretation of Plurilingual Tax Treaties

Theory, Practice, Policy

Richard Xenophon Resch
Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten


Based on an analysis of 3,844 tax treaties, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and its Commentaries (VCLT), and case law of various domestic and international courts.

The current orthodoxy maintains that courts are not required to compare all language texts of a plurilingual treaty but may rely on a single one for cases of routine interpretation. This view is erroneous, in violation of the VCLT, and the source of treaty misapplication; taxpayers are ill-advised to pay attention only to the text in their own language.

In daily practice, the issue is of great relevance: almost three-quarters of the well over 3,000 concluded tax treaties are plurilingual. The BEPS MLI escalates complexity because it modifies a large number of treaties having texts in various languages. This study aims to (1) help diminish treaty misapplication through abandonment of the current orthodoxy, (2) show that sole reliance on prevailing texts is available as a pragmatic alternative in line with the VCLT, and (3) provide policy recommendations how residual cases may be eliminated.

To support these goals, this study seeks to provide conclusive arguments and useful data to policy makers, treaty negotiators, judges, practitioners, and scholars. Its analysis of all tax treaty final clauses is intended to help both taxpayers and courts interpreting tax treaties in practice. The general arguments presented in this book are however not limited to tax treaties, since similar issues play a role in the interpretation of other treaties, for example, in the field of foreign investment regulation.