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Kunio Mikuriya - Hindu Times

The Hindu Times reports that the World Customs Organization (WCO) will soon bring out guidelines on ‘cross-border e-commerce’, which will focus on preventing illegal trade as well as addressing the challenges stemming from the ‘digital divide’, according to the WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.

In an interview to The Hindu on his recent India trip, Mr. Mikuriya said, “We are developing guidelines on e-commerce to see how best Customs can facilitate legitimate trade through that route.” He added, “We [the WCO] will address issues related to digital divide by looking into what is blocking e-commerce trade, and what kind of enabling environment is needed to support developing countries so that they benefit more from e-commerce.”

Terming e-commerce as a “game changer” in global trade that is benefiting small firms and consumers, he said the new guidelines would, however, include provisions to prevent illegal trade and illicit financial flows. This would be ensured through measures that would help strengthen information exchange between Customs administrations of countries as well as collaboration with other government agencies.

The WCO has a Working Group on e-Commerce and four sub-groups. To develop guidelines on cross-border e-commerce, the work packages identified are: ‘trade facilitation and simplification of procedures’, ‘safety and security’, ‘revenue collection’, and ‘measurement and analysis’. According to the UN body ‘UNCTAD’, the value of online trade jumped from $16 trillion to $22 trillion between 2013 and 2015.

“The continuous increase in online trading has raised questions regarding regulation, consumer protection, revenue collection and national security,” according to the WCO’s ‘Study Report on Cross-Border E-Commerce’ (March 2017). “These questions cannot be dealt with individually, but require a common, broad approach by the international Customs community, together with all relevant stakeholders as a whole.”

The WCO said more sophisticated equipment was needed to combat illicit trading through low-value shipments in the postal, express and cargo streams.

“Pre-arrival information on the consignment and the consignee could be of great importance in detecting and intercepting illicit trade. In addition, the improvement of non-intrusive inspection equipment and an increase in the number of trained staff could help to enhance the detection rate of illicit goods,” it said.

In an article on e-commerce, the WCO’s Director of Compliance and Facilitation Ana Hinojosa pointed out that in many countries, there were de minimisthresholds that allow low-value packages to enter a country with little or no duties or taxes, and with much more simplified procedures.

“This has led to clever manipulations by either the shipper or the consumer to avoid the extra charges by splitting invoices, undervaluing the invoices or mis-declaring the items altogether,” wrote Ms. Hinojosa. Another type of manipulation used was to classify the item as something else or claiming a different country of origin for the product, to take advantage of better duty or tax rates, the WCO official said, adding that these distortions had had an impact on many countries’ revenue collection volumes. Therefore, “some countries… are re-evaluating their established thresholds due to the significant implications that the changes brought about by these growing volumes of low-value small packages are having on their fiscal revenues,” observed Ms. Hinojosa. Source: The Hindu, 2 August 2017.

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New WCO InstrumentAn important new instrument was finalised at the 42nd Session of the Technical Committee on Customs Valuation which took place in Brussels from 18 to 22 April 2016 under the Chairmanship of Ms. Yuliya Gulis of the United States.

The instrument contains a case study illustrating a scenario where Customs took into account transfer pricing information in the course of verifying the Customs value.

The WTO Valuation Agreement sets out the methodology for establishing the Customs value, used as the basis for calculating Customs duties. The Agreement foresees that Customs may examine transactions between related parties where they have doubts that the price has been influenced by the relationship.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has developed Guidelines for establishing the transfer price, that is the price for goods and services sold between controlled or related legal entities, in order to determine business profit taxes where businesses are related.

Over recent years, the similar objectives but different methodologies of transfer pricing and Customs valuation have been noted, and it has been recognised that business documentation developed for transfer pricing purposes may contain useful information for Customs. An earlier instrument of the Technical Committee, Commentary 23.1, confirmed this principle.

The new case study provides an example of Customs making use of transfer pricing information based on the transactional net margin method. On the basis of this information, Customs accepted that the sale price in question had not been influenced by the relationship.

The OECD has provided valuable input to the Technical Committee discussions in the development of the new instrument which provides helpful guidance to both Customs administrations and the business community.

Both the WCO and the OECD advocate closer cooperation between Customs and tax administrations in order to strengthen governments’ ability to identify the correct tax and duties legally due and enhance trade facilitation for the compliant business sector.

WCO Secretary General, Mr. Kunio Mikuriya, has congratulated the Technical Committee on the work achieved : “This new instrument is an important step for the WCO and demonstrates its relevance by providing guidance on the management of Customs valuation in an increasingly complex trade landscape, whilst maintaining consistency and strengthening cooperation with Tax authorities.”

The case study (Case Study 14.1) will be made available in the WCO Valuation Compendium, subject to approval by the WCO Council in July 2016.

Further information on this topic can be found in the WCO Guide to Customs Valuation and Transfer Pricing, available via this link