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GST heat goes on internet sales

Debate is turning into action over taxing internet sales.

The Australian Treasurer told media at the Council on Federal Financial Relations Meeting in Canberra on 9 April his Government will require overseas companies selling intangibles into Australia to register and pay GST on their sales there. This includes companies like Netflix and many others which are clearly in the Australian Government’s sights.

Treasurer Hockey says the States in Australia have agreed to this in principle and they intend working as quickly as possible to achieve it. He also said it would make sense to apply the same rules to goods sold over the internet below the import exempt threshold of $1,000. That will be welcome news for Australian retailers.

http://jbh.ministers.treasury.gov.au/transcript/075-2015/

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, our Government maintains the line it will await the OECD special working party on digital commerce (due to release a further report later this year) before acting and there is no current intention to review the low value import threshold here for goods.

NZ retailers still have their work cut out to persuade our Government to act sooner and follow the EU and South Africa.

On 13 April Retail NZ and Bookseller NZ launched an #eFairnessNZ campaign seeking urgent action on this. They say it is hurting retailers all over New Zealand. The campaign is being run on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #eFairnessNZ.

www.retail.kiwi/eFairnessNZ

While the regimes in place in South Africa and the EU have significant practical and enforcement issues it does appear they are collecting revenue. We won’t know how they are impacting consumer behaviour for another few months but it certainly doesn’t look like the sky has fallen on them.

I’d say this is an inevitability but we still are some way away from the ideal technological solution we need.

Cheers

Iain

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Taxing energy drinks unconstitutional

A recent decision in France has concluded a government tax on energy drinks contravenes the country’s constitution.

Under France’s tax laws a tax was imposed on energy drinks with at least 220 mg of caffeine per 1,000 ml.

The tax was challenged and the Constitutional Council was asked to rule.

The Council gave its decision on 19 September.

In its decision the Council indicates the goal of improving public health was the policy foundation for the tax and concludes it is acceptable, in pursuing that goal, to distinguish between drinks based on caffeine content.

However, in this case, some drinks which had higher caffeine levels than 220 mg per 1,000 ml were exempt from the tax because they weren’t “energy drinks”. This was a problem according to the Council because in effect drinks that were substantially the same in terms of caffeine content were not treated equally for tax purposes and this differential treatment was not justified.

Therefore, the Council ruled the tax is contrary to France’s Constitution.

The lesson for tax policy makers – it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. The problem was created because caffeine was used as the determinant for imposing the tax. If a characteristic unique to “energy drinks” had been used instead then it’s possible a different outcome might have been reached.

Iain

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VAT and online sales

This is a very good item on the wider business implications of proposed changes in Europe to the VAT treatment of online digital media sales.

http://performance.ey.com/2014/02/20/vat-change-online-sales-just-tax-concern/

Cheers

Iain

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Global VAT alignment edges closer

At the Global Forum on VAT in Tokyo last week 86 countries signed up to the first agreed framework for applying VAT to internationally traded services and intangibles. The new guidelines set out core VAT principles to be applied when taxing services and intangibles, will ensure more consistency between countries, will reduce double taxation and will protect the neutrality of business to business (“B2B”) transactions.

While an important step in the right direction, the more vexing question of how to tax internationally traded business to consumer (“B2C”)services and intangibles has been left for another time.

The Global Forum on VAT occurs under the umbrella of the OECD and provides a platform for global discussions on VAT. The first session took place in November 2012. Last week was the second occasion academics, tax administrators. business representatives and others were invited to discuss VAT policy trends and developments.

The main output from this latest session was a set of new OECD Guidelines on applying VAT across borders.

The Guidelines can be downloaded from the the OECD website – here: http://www.oecd.org/ctp/consumption/international-vat-gst-guidelines.htm

The focus of the Guidelines is B2B transactions. They discuss place of supply rules, the well known “destination principle” (B2B services should be taxed in the country where the customer is located) and mechanisms available to countries to allow non established foreign businesses to recover VAT incurred there.

None of this is startling news for New Zealand. We’re already ahead of this stuff thanks to our super charged GST system. Just this month we’ve seen a new streamlined registration and GST recovery system come into place for overseas businesses incurring GST here.

The really challenging question for New Zealand, and every other country with a VAT, is how do you tax B2C services and intangibles traded across borders? Unlike goods there’s no border control in place to capture internationally traded services and there’s no existing registration system to collect the tax from the customer/consumer.

This really is the more urgent question in my view. Countries are attempting to deal with the issue on their own (eg South Africa and the EU) but global cooperation and alignment are critical. Some States in the USA have implemented mechanisms to apply state taxes to inter-state B2C online sales (such as e-books) and the latest evidence suggests these measures are improving the sales of local bricks and mortar retailers at the expense of online retailers such as Amazon.

Last week’s Forum in Tokyo urged the OECD to finalise work on the VAT treatment of B2C services in time for the next Global Forum on VAT in November 2015. That seems like a long time to wait, but as we all know, achieving global consensus on anything is a slow process.

Cheers

Iain