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Report on the Global Forum on VAT April 17 and 18, 2014, Tokyo

By June 16, 2014July 10th, 2021No Comments

The OECDs 2 day second global forum on VAT concluded in Tokyo on April 18, 2014. The Forum adopted the “International VAT/GST Guidelines” formally signaling … 

The OECDs 2 day second global forum on VAT concluded in Tokyo on April 18, 2014. The Forum adopted the “International VAT/GST Guidelines” formally signaling the arrival of standards on B2B transactions.  The forum promised to come back in November 2015 with standards on B2C transactions.

The guidelines assume larger significance in the light of growing risks of double taxation and unintended non-taxation in the absence of international VAT coordination. The discussions at the forum ranged from the merits and de-merits of a single rate, or multiple rates, exemptions, place of taxation, place of supply, tax fraud and true to the title the sessions involved experts from the most developed tax regimes like the United Kingdom, the EU and the developing tax countries like Ghana, South Africa either as chairman, paper presenter or rapporteur.

Nations have now come to realize the benefits of Indirect Taxes or the consumption tax. Japan adopted the VAT in 1989 with a tax rate of 3% increasing it to 5% in 1997 and after 17 years, from April 1, 2014 further increasing to 8% with the principle objective to fund social security for its ageing population. In 1965, 9 people supported the older generation, the number dropped to 2 in 2014 and it is estimated that by 2050 the number will be about 1.2 thus the burden on younger generation to support the seniors will be rock breaking.  Japan has already signaled that the tax rate of 8% will be increased to 10% with effect from October 2015 subject to the economic conditions prevailing at that point of time.

Taxing the Digital economy poses the biggest challenge with business in goods and services on the internet showing a steady rise. A draft on the Tax Challenges of the Digital Economy was released by the OECD for public consultation on March 24, 2014.  Borderless trade is giving sleepless nights to tax administrations. Ghana, proposes to tax entities located outside its territory when they provide electronic services if the recipient device is located in Ghana.  The Ghana VAT law requires foreign entities to obtain registration in Ghana though there may not be any permanent establishment within Ghana. The Ghana tax authorities are researching hard to set rules for this provision which in the first instance appears out of jurisdiction.

Another issue that searches for answers is curtailing “VAT Fraud”. In EU the tax gap is estimated to be close to 17%, about 193 billion Euros. In developing nations this percentage is much higher resulting in parallel economies. Strategic measures like reduction in rates, exemptions rather than zero rate, larger registration threshold and targeted action like withholding tax refunds pending audits, reverse charge for vulnerable categories, digital invoices etc. were deliberated upon by experts.

It is an accepted fact that policies relating to consumption tax require huge political patronage and a Government that takes a hard decision may have to bite the bullet in the elections, such is the risk involved, as consumption taxes though indirect in nature affect the purchasing power of the common man, directly.

Rajendra Kumar
Sanjiv Shah