• Taxing the digital economy

Digital tax trends: International plans to tax the digital economy

Digital tax trends indicate a move to destination-based taxation and foreign-based suppliers becoming liable for VAT/GST. We like to keep those affected up-to-date so here's a list of countries planning change.

Jul 12, 2018

Across the globe indirect VAT/GST rules are being amended to ensure that foreign digital suppliers become liable for the collection and remittance of these taxes.

Singapore, in mid-February 2018, was the latest jurisdiction to flag such changes to their tax rules with change due on January 1, 2020. In March 2018 the Canadian province of Québec revealed its plan to introduce a digital sales tax. Colombia has released a draft law (July 2018) aimed at taxing foreign suppliers of digital services. It is also possible that two more Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states – Qatar and Bahrain – will implement a new 5% VAT system before the end of 2018. The key, of course, is to be prepared. Here we give you some insight into what is planned worldwide. 

Digital tax trends

First, some background: the pace of change, from a taxation perspective, has been rapid. In the first half of 2018 alone Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all imposed a destination-based VAT on cross-border B2C digital service supplies.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has already approved the destination-based principle in Action 1 of its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) report. The OECD states that: “For consumption purposes internationally traded services and intangibles should be taxed according to the rules of the jurisdiction of consumption.” Numerous tax jurisdictions are taking their lead from the OECD recommended approaches to taxing the digital economy.

Here we provide a list of tax jurisdictions that are planning to extend their VAT/GST laws to the consumption of cross-border digital services:

1. Colombia

VAT rules governing the cross-border supply of digital services from non-resident digital platforms are due to come into effect on July 1, 2018.

The published draft law has confirmed the liability for foreign suppliers to register, collect, and remit VAT at 19% in Colombia for sales to individuals.

For more detail on Colombia's plans click here.

2. Singapore

On Monday, February 19, during his 2018 Singapore speech Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed that digital services imported by consumers based in Singapore will be subjected to GST from January 1, 2020.

From early reports of this GST extension, foreign-based suppliers of digital services would face GST registration to enable their collection and reporting of Singapore GST to the Inland Revenue Authority Of Singapore (IRAS).

“Today, services such as consultancy and marketing purchased from overseas suppliers are not subject to GST. Local consumers also do not pay GST when they download apps and music from overseas,” said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. “This change will ensure that imported and local services are accorded the same treatment.”

For more detail on Singapore's plans click here.

3. Thailand

A report in March 2018 stated that Thailand’s Ministry of Finance is “pushing a draft bill on an e-business tax, a levy on online purchases, advertisements and website rent in Thailand” earned by foreign-based digital service providers.

In April 2018 Thailand’s Revenue Department started the process of communicating with stakeholders who provided important feedback to a recent public hearing held in relation to the proposed legislative change. The proposed bill, if passed, will require foreign-based digital service suppliers, including platform operators, to register, collect, and remit VAT to Thailand’s Revenue Department. If passed, the rules are expected to be introduced in 2018.

The most recent draft bill (2018) is now before Thailand’s Council of State (department under the Prime Minister) for consideration.

4. Canada

In March 2018 the Québec government, in its annual budget, revealed plans to force non-resident digital service suppliers to register, collect, and remit Québec Sales Tax (QST) to Revenu Québec.

The introduction date of the proposed new rules is January 1, 2019. More information here.

An internal government document revealed in January 2017 raises the possibility of a Canadian sales tax on foreign-supplied digital services.

The 2017 government document — as reported by CBC — stated that the lack of such a tax “not only represents a significant loss of potential tax revenue for government, but it can also place domestic digital suppliers at an unfair competitive disadvantage.”

This mirrors the reasoning behind introducing such rules, and it is reflected in moves by tax authorities across the globe. These implementations are an attempt by native tax authorities to level the playing field between foreign and domestic digital service suppliers.

An August 2017 report from respected Canadian think-tank, the C.D. Howe Institute, has recommended that Canada amend its Excise Tax Act to apply to businesses that supply digital goods and service for consumption within Canada.

For more detail on this report click here.

5. GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan to introduce a VAT system in January 2018. The six member states of the GCC are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

As mentioned in our introduction, on January 1, 2018, Saudi Arabia and the UAE both implemented a new VAT system. It is expected that remaining four member states of the GCC will follow during 2018 and early 2019. Reports in mid-2018 suggest that Bahrain and Qatar could possibly introduce the new 5% VAT system before the end of 2018. More here.

The introduction of a VAT system in each of the GCC member states is an opportunity for innovation. These States have a chance to design systems from scratch to tax the digital economy. And this is what they are doing.

The place of consumption rules will apply as per the recently revealed GCC framework agreement. Taxamo understands that there will be no threshold and that the VAT registration process must take place via a local tax agent.

6. Brazil

An October 2017 Brazilian State Agreement (Convênio ICMS 106⁄2017) has revealed plans to tax digital services – e.g. games, streaming services, music and image downloads, etc — via the State tax mechanism (ICMS).

ICMS is a state tax applied in Brazil’s federal states to the supply of goods and services. The ICMS rate also varies from State-to-State, of which there are 27 (the Federal District and 26 federal states). The standard rate is 17% but is 18% in some states and 19% in others.

7. Argentina

In late October 2017 it was revealed that non-residents supplying digital services – such as streaming and music downloads – to Argentina-based consumers will be subject to a 21% tax from a provisional start date of 2019.

According to local news reports the Federal Public Revenue Administration (AFIP) in Argentina will start charging taxes through credit cards to digital service platforms. Affected platforms will include the likes of Netflix, Spotify, and Airbnb.

More here on our dedicated Argentina blog.

8. Bangladesh

In June 2018 Bangladesh proposed a 5% VAT on all types of ‘virtual business’ in its 2018-19 budget.

The term ‘virtual business’ was later clarified to mean digital platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google.

Here at Taxamo we have been following developments in Bangladesh very closely. You can learn more about what has happened, and what is planned, here.

9. Philippines

Major tax reform is on the agenda in the Philippines with the taxation of foreign-supplied digital services firmly in the sights of the tax authority there.

Since 2016 Philippines Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has been drawing up plans aimed at taxing the digital economy.

One of the points of focus for the Philippine tax authorities are companies that sell services via social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. The services covered in any potential piece of legislation would attract value-added tax (VAT), the current VAT rate in the Philippines is 12%.

10. Vietnam

The place of consumption rule is already in place in Vietnam. However, VAT is withheld at source by the Vietnamese party to the contract. This applies unless the foreign contractor has registered for tax purposes in Vietnam.

Vietnam is also assessing its options in relation to extending taxation of the digital economy. The Vietnamese Government has already stated that they back the OECD’s BEPS proposals and their next step is to choose their approach.

According to various reports the Vietnamese tax agency is liaising with other entities, such as banks, so as to obtain information about unreported transactions by non-resident digital companies. The target of this particular move are social media sites and messaging services.

11. Israel

In a significant move, revealed in early April 2016, the Israeli Tax Authority (ITA) proposed to change its VAT legislation so that foreign tech firms have to register in Israel to account for VAT on digital services sold to Israeli consumers.

The key change from the ITA is to the definition of ‘permanent establishment’ to now include online businesses, where the economic activity of the foreign digital service supplier is via the internet.

Some background: On March 13, 2016, the ITA revealed draft legislation covering inbound eCommerce and digital services supplied to Israeli residents.

According to Globes, an Israeli business website, the draft legislation states that “a foreign resident who provides a digital service or operates an online store through which a digital service is provided will have to register as a business in Israel in a special register that will be maintained for the purpose, and will also be obliged to file a report with the Tax Authority attached to the tax payment that arises from it. The report will state the total price of transactions in the reporting period and the VAT due on them, and the Tax Authority director will be entitled to issue a tax demand to the foreign resident if the report submitted turns out to be incorrect.”

12. Malaysia

Malaysia looked all set to become the latest tax jurisdiction to seek a levelling of the playing field between traditional and digital businesses by amending their GST system to tax foreign-supplied digital services. That was prior to the country’s May 2018 elections after which Dr. Mahathir Mohamad became the Seventh Prime Minister of Malaysia.

One of Mahathir Mohamad’s pre-election promises was to zero-rate the country’s Goods and Services Tax (GST), previously 6%. He carried through on this promise and from June 1, 2018, GST is zero-rated.

What happens next is still unclear, with some commentary suggesting that Malaysia will reintroduce the Sales and Services Tax (SST) – previously set at a 10% rate – in September 2018.

It remains to be seen whether digital supplies from non-resident companies will be within the scope of the new SST regime in Malaysia. We will, of course, keep you up-to-date on developments.

Click here for details on digital VAT/GST rules in operation across the globe

Taxamo content is created for guidance only, please consult your local tax advisor.