Thursday, May 18, 2017

GST in India: For Better or Worse?


Apple has started manufacturing iPhones in India. According to a WSJ report, the the iPhone SE series is being produced by Wistron, near Bangalore. Since the locally manufactured or assembled products will not attract import duties, it seems the prices are going to about USD 100 lower than imported phones.

Import duties and taxes make a big difference to a companys' fortunes. India's tax system is often cited as one of the top reasons why global manufacturers prefer to stay away from India. For instance, JCCII, a body representing Japanese corporate's, puts out every year "Suggestions to the Government of India". These suggestion have remained more or less unchanged for many years, and it is always complaints about the tax system that tops the lists.

In the latest 2016 list too, JCCII's tax-related suggestions include -
  • Removal of Permanent Establishment (PE) taxation
  • Easing of Transfer Pricing assessments by classifying Japanese Trading Companies (Sogo Sosha), not as traders but as Service Providers
  • Exemption from Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) in the SEZs
  • Exemption from Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) paid to foreign shareholders
  • Exemption of Service Tax on exports from India
In other words, the Japanese companies are saying, "If you don't let us take our profits home, we will not be able to invest more in India". In the official cover note JCCII also says, "While we await...the all-important GST bill, our concerns on the Tax system...remain."

So is the GST going to really improve our tax system and east of doing business? Much of what I have read so far has been gung-ho about GST, and about how it is going bind the whole country into one large happy market for goods and services.

An interesting contrarian view is held by Aravind Datar, who is quite convinced that GST, in its present form, is only going to worsen the ease-of-doing-business scenario in India. Here is the video -



The critical points are -

* More Laws, More Confusion: As of today, 29 states in India have their own VAT / Sales Tax laws, and separate laws for Service Tax and Excise Duty (total 32 laws). When GST is adopted by all the states we will have 29 StateGSTs (SGSTs), one Central Service Tax (CST) and one Inter-State GST (IGST). In all, 31 laws instead of 32.

* Lack of Checks and Balances: The GST Council can make only recommendations, which cannot be enforced. The state governments are free to make GST laws as they please (as per the 101 Amendment, Article 246A, and the Supreme Court judgement of 11 Dec., 2016)

* Cumbersome Reporting Requirements: Service providers currently file their returns twice a year. Now they will have to file 49 returns every year! (3 returns per month online - 10, 15, 30th + 12 TDS returns + 1 annual returns = 49)

* Discouraging Economies of Scale: Any company earning more than INR 2 million will have to file returns. So this will only encourage those who want to stay below that threshold, as in the old "License Permit Raj" days.

* Enormous potential for tax evasion, and tax-related harassment: Unlike other countries which have one single GST rate (eg. Singapore - 7%), we are going to have slabs - 0%, 5%, 10%, 28%. This encourages ambiguity, and the discretionary powers of tax officers.

* More Ambiguity, Not Less: Lack of clarity on General Anti Avoidance Rules (GAAR) and Place of Effective Management (POEM) is sure to discourage manufacturers and FDI investors.

Datar is a great communicator and his speeches, articles and arguments are quite convincing. Is there anybody in the establishment who has come up with a point-wise rebuttal of the concerns raised by him?

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LINKS:

* (2017) WSJ - https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-assembles-first-iphones-in-india-1495016276

* JCCII's Suggestions to GoI (2016) - http://www.jccii.in/Docs/0333_2016_suggestions_jccii_summary_english.pdf

* Aravind Datar on GST - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGmJyxugA2E

* (2015) Aravind Datar, IE - GST's Seven Deadly Defects - http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/gsts-seven-deadly-defects/
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