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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

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“Australia should follow NZ GST”?

NZ’s GST is certainly the most efficient form of VAT in the world.

The “VAT Revenue Ratio” is used by the OECD as a measure of VAT efficiency. The average in the OECD is about 50%.

The least efficient is Turkey’s VAT at about 30%. NZ ranks top at a little more than 95%, followed closely by Luxembourg.

Australia’s VAT Revenue Ratio is around 45%.

The Australian Treasury Secretary thinks they can learn from NZ’s GST and argues for a further shift in Australia from income taxes to GST. See: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/9900014/Aussies-should-follow-our-GST-lead

If efficiency is the goal then the evidence seems compellingly in favour of the Secretary’s argument.

However, political realities seem to pull most countries in the opposite direction.

Yes VAT is spreading around the world as the tax of choice for governments but, increasingly those governments are voting for multiple rates, exemptions and zero rating when designing their version of VAT.

When the GFC hit we saw governments making greater use of reduced rates to stimulate activitiy. There is now a growing trend to use penal VAT rates as policy tools to discourage certain “undesirable” consumption (e.g for environmental reasons). Policies like these make a VAT system less efficient but they also make it more politically acceptable and relevant.

Perhaps the questions are: how long can NZ resist these political pressures and is it more likely we will follow the Aussie lead?

Iain

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At least it’s a start – UPDATE on E-commerce in South Africa

At least it's a start.

An update on the South African proposal to require non-resident e-services suppliers to register for VAT.

The effective date for the new rules has been stretched out to 1 June 2014 (an extension of 2 months) to allow businesses more time to get ready. Registration is open however from 7 April for those wishing to beat the rush.

Following consultation the scope of services caught by the new registration requirement has been narrowed in an attempt to exclude some common business to business transactions. This should eliminate some unnecessary compliance obligations for businesses and the South African tax authority.

This is clearly a work in progress for the South African government, as it is for every other country, so more changes to the detail are expected (such as to the registration threshold for example). They intend to continue with a wider review on the taxation of electronic services, particularly in the financial services sector.

You can read more about this here: http://www.treasury.gov.za/comm_media/press/2014/2014032801%20-%20Press%20Release%20-%20Electronic%20Services%20Regulations.pdf

Iain

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Bodies corporate and GST

Brian Fallow’s opinion piece in today’s Herald on residential bodies corporate and GST is timely.

See here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11231055

This issue baffles me. Why is it so complicated and why is it taking so long for the IRD to reach a settled position?

Maybe I’m missing something, but like Fallow, I think the legal analysis isn’t that complex. Bodies corporate are separate entities from the apartment owners and they provide services to the owners in return for levies. Even if those services are mandated by legislation it seems to me, there is a supply and it is for consideration.

You wouldn’t have to look far to find examples where the IRD has insisted on a company registering for GST because it was supplying goods and services to related shareholders. If no charge was made for the supplies the IRD is entitled to deem consideration to be provided at market value if the shareholder is not GST registered.

This issue isn’t without a downside for the bodies corporate and the apartment owners though. Leaving aside the issue of leaky home settlements (and I agree with Fallow on that), those deriving fees of more than the registration threshold are required to register for GST in my view and that could mean a net GST cost to the owners, especially if the body corporate employs staff.

Our GST system is applauded for being broad based and here we have the IRD arguing for a narrowing of the base. An unusual situation in my view.

Comments most welcome on this one.

Iain

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Are you ready for the 1st of April 2014?

Change to tax law is as certain as tax itself.

The 1st of April is a favourite of governments around the world for ushering in tax changes.

Here’s a snippet of some changes that are coming into force in GST, VAT and other indirect taxes on 1 April:

Albania – Supplies of medical services and medicines will be exempt from VAT, alcohol and tobacco excise taxes will rise and energy drinks will become subject to excise tax.

Cook Islands – The standard VAT rate will increase from 12.5% to 15% and import charges on some foodstuffs will reduce to zero.

France – CO2 content will become the basis for calculating excise taxes on energy products.

Japan – The rate of Consumption Tax will increase from 5% to 8%.

Lithuania – Excise duty on alcohol products will increase.

New Zealand – Non-residents will be able to claim refunds of GST for New Zealand business expenses under an enhanced registration system.

South Africa – Foreign suppliers of electronic services to residents in South Africa will have to register for VAT and charge South African VAT.

So, a busy day for indirect tax changes. Don’t be fooled!

The South African measure is especially interesting and deserves more comment in a separate post.

Iain

 

 

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GST and online shopping – is there a cure?

The NZ Government has delayed the Customs / IRD report on GST and online trading to allow the issue to be considered as part of the wider review of how global corporates are taxed. I think the merger of the issues was unavoidable. They are closely linked and the ultimate solution will be multilateral.

Nevertheless we’ve just come through another peak retail season with shoppers confirming their increasing appetite for internet purchases. Senior politicians have taken notice of the amount of GST being lost to the government and local retailers wonder why their overseas competitors continue to have this advantage over them.

As I see it, there are two interim solutions:
1. Remove the low value import threshold.
2. Introduce a domestic low value threshold for GST purposes.

Each has its own challenges and each means more compliance costs for someone. The first option appeals more however because it is consistent with perserving the integrity of our existing GST system.

cheers

Iain