Tag: international co-ordination

In his Budget on 29 October, the UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced a new type of tax. This is a ‘digital services tax’, which, after consultation, he is planning to introduce in April 2020. The target of the tax is the profits made by major companies providing social media platforms (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), internet marketplaces (e.g. Amazon and eBay) or search engines (such as Alphabet’s Google).

Up to now, their profits have been very hard to tax because the companies operate in many countries and use accounting techniques, such as transfer pricing (see the blogs Disappearing tax revenues: how Luxembourg saves companies billions and Starbucks pays not a bean in corporation tax, thanks to transfer pricing), to declare most of their profits in low-tax countries, such as Luxembourg. One way of doing this is for a company’s branches in different countries to pay the head office (located in a tax haven) a ‘royalty’ for using the brand.

The proposed digital services tax is a 2% tax on the revenues earned by such companies in the UK. It would only apply to large companies, defined as those whose global revenue is at least £500m a year. It is expected to raise around £400m per year.

The EU is considering a similar tax at a rate of 3%. India, Pakistan, South Korea and several other countries are considering introducing digital taxes. Indeed, many countries are arguing for a worldwide agreement on such a tax. The OECD is studying the implications of the possible use of such a tax by its 36 members. If an international agreement on such a tax can be reached, a separate UK tax may not go ahead. As the Chancellor stated in his Budget speech:

In the meantime we will continue to work at the OECD and G20 to seek a globally agreed solution. And if one emerges, we will consider adopting it in place of the UK Digital Services Tax.

The proposed UK tax is a hybrid between direct and indirect taxes. Like corporation tax, a direct tax, its aim is to tax companies’ profits. But, unlike corporation tax, it would be harder for such companies to avoid. Like VAT, an indirect tax, it would be a tax on revenue, but, unlike VAT, it would be an ‘end-stage’ tax rather than a tax on value added at each stage of production. Also, it would not be a simple sales tax on companies as it would be confined to revenue (such as advertising revenue) earned from the use in the UK of search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces. As the Chancellor said in his speech.

It is important that I emphasise that this is not an online-sales tax on goods ordered over the internet: such a tax would fall on consumers of those goods – and that is not our intention.

There is, however, a political problem for the UK in introducing such a tax. The main companies it would affect are American. It is likely that President Trump would see such taxes as a direct assault on the USA and could well threaten retaliation. As the Accountancy Age article states, ‘Dragging the UK into an acrimonious quarrel with one of its largest trading partners is perhaps not what the Chancellor intends.’ This will be especially so as the UK seeks to build new trading relationships with the USA after Brexit. As the BBC article states, ‘The chancellor will be hoping that an international agreement rides to his rescue before the UK tax has to be imposed.’

Articles

Government documents

Questions

  1. How do multinational digital companies avoid profit taxes (corporation tax in the UK)?
  2. Explain how a digital services tax would work.
  3. Why is a digital services tax likely to be set at a much lower rate than a profit tax?
  4. Explain the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.
  5. Would it be possible for digital companies to avoid or evade such taxes?
  6. Is there a possibility of a prisoners’ dilemma game in terms of seeking international agreement on such taxes
  7. How does a digital services tax differ from a sales revenue tax

China has a key role in the global economy. Recording double digit growth for a number of years and posting impressive export figures, China’s has been an economy on an upward trajectory. But its growth has been slowing and this might spell trouble for the global economy, as was discussed in the following blog. For many, China is the pendulum and the direction it moves in will have a big influence on many other countries.

There are some suggestions that China’s rapid growth has been somewhat artificial, in particular following the financial crisis, where we saw massive investment by state-owner enterprises, banks and local government. This has led to a severe imbalance within the Chinese economy, with high levels of debt. One of the key factors that has enabled China to grow so quickly has been strong exports. China has typically had a large current account surplus, often balanced by large current account deficits in many Western countries.

The exchange rate is a key component in keeping strong export growth and the devaluation of the Chinese currency in August (see What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world) is perhaps a suggestion that export growth in China is lower than desired. Devaluing the currency will boost the competitiveness of Chinese exports and this in turn may lead to a growth in the current account surplus, which had fallen quite significantly from around 10% to 2%.

The problem is that China is currently imbalanced and this is likely to create problems around the world. With globalisation, the free movement of capital and people, deflation in the West and falling world asset prices, the situation in China is crucial. Although you will find many articles about China and blogs on this site about its devaluation, its growth and policy, the BBC News article below considers the conflicts that exist between three key economic objectives:

1. currency stability
2. the free movement of capital
3. independent monetary policy

and the need for some international co-operation and co-ordination to enable China’s economy to return to internal and external balance.

China’s impossible trinity BBC News, Duncan Weldon (8/9/15)

Questions

  1. What is meant by internal balance?
  2. What is external balance?
  3. Would you suggest that China is suffering from an imbalanced economy? If so, which type of imbalance and why is this a problem for China and for the world economy?
  4. The article refers to the trilemma. Why can an country not achieve all 3 parts of the trilemma? You should explain why each combination of 2 aspects is possible, but why the third is problematic.
  5. Use a diagram to explain why a fall in the exchange rate will boost the competitiveness of exports and why this can create economic growth.
  6. Why is a devalued Chinese currency bad news for the rest of the world?
  7. How could international co-operation and co-ordination help China?

Inflation has reached a 16-year high of 5.2% in September 2008 with rising energy bills leading to much of the increase. This puts inflation well outside the target rate for the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), but analysts are convinced that it will fall sharply in the coming months with some predicting inflation to be just 1% by autumn 2009. Even the Bank of England has now agreed that inflationary risks have moved “decisively to the downside” allowing them to cut the interest rate from 5% to 4.5% as part of a globally coordinated interest rate cut.

Rising gas bills send inflation to 16-year high Times Online (14/10/08)
Inflation high but fear of recession grows Guardian (14/10/08)
Inflation soars to 5.2% Guardian (14/10/08)
Fresh storm gathering as inflation surge adds £3bn to welfare bill Times Online (15/10/08)
Rising cost of living prompts further pay strike threats Times Online (15/10/08)
Where now for UK inflation? BBC News Online (14/10/08)
Consumer inflation reaches 5.2% BBC News Online (14/10/08)

Questions

1. Explain how the CPI is calculated.
2. What are the principal factors that have led to the rise in inflation to 5.2%?
3. Discuss whether, in the current financial crisis, it is appropriate for the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to be targeting just inflation.
4. Explain the transmission mechanism whereby a cut in interest rates will affect inflation. Discuss whether this transmission mechanism will be as relevant in the current financial climate.