On 15 August 2017 the IMF issued a report and selected issues paper following consultations with China under Article IV of the IMF’s articles of agreement.
The report notes that China is continuing its transition to more sustainable growth with 6.7% growth in 2016 and the same level projected for 2017. Progress has been made in rebalancing the economy towards services and consumption. The firmer economic activity gives an opportunity to accelerate reforms in areas such as greater social spending; further reforms of state owned enterprises; and reduction of financial stability risk through further efforts on regulation and supervision. The report suggests that further improvements in policy frameworks are required to maintain medium term growth and stability and local government autonomy could be increased.
Central-local fiscal relations
The selected issues paper notes that China has the largest share of local government spending in the world, but there is limited revenue autonomy at the local level. The paper notes that decentralization of revenues permits a more satisfactory matching of the tax system to the local situation and preferences, as well as encouraging accountability of policy makers. However centralization of taxation has benefits in terms of economies of scale, risk-sharing, and dealing with the mobility of the tax base.
The paper suggests that the provinces could be permitted to impose a surcharge in addition to the national personal income tax (PIT). This would allow the provinces some tax autonomy within a limit specified by the centre, for example an upper limit of 5% or 10%. The revenue contribution of the PIT is currently low by international standards and this would also be a way of increasing that contribution.
In the case of value added tax (VAT) there would be difficulties in implementing any VAT at the provincial level owing to the difficulties in monitoring border flows between local jurisdictions. The national scope of the VAT should therefore be maintained but there could be a review of the revenue-sharing arrangements to reduce compliance costs for taxpayers with multiple business locations. This could be done by introducing simple allocation rules based on factors like population or aggregate consumption.
The paper considers that a recurrent market-value based property tax would be suitable for local governments in China. A property tax would be linked to public service delivery through property values and as it is based on property its base is immobile. The accountability of local officials is helped by the fact that the tax is visible to local residents on a recurring basis. High-income households also generally have higher property wealth and a local property tax could therefore be regarded as progressive. Local governments could set tax rates within bands set by the central government, applicable to a tax base that is defined according to national guidelines.
There is increasing income and wealth inequality in China but tax reforms could be used to increase inclusiveness. If the tax system could be restructured to rely more on personal income tax this could also improve redistribution, as the income tax can easily be given a progressive structure. The current personal allowance could be lowered and transformed into a tax credit. Tax brackets could be redesigned to ensure that those with greater ability to pay are contributing more to the national budget. The method of imputed minimum earnings for calculating social security contributions is regressive and should be abolished so that direct taxes would be more equitable and workers could have more incentive to join the formal sector.
The IMF issued a report on Japan’s economic position on 31 July 2017 following the conclusion of discussions under Article IV of the IMF’s articles of association.
The report notes that Japan’s economy is growing above potential with positive private consumption growth and stronger private investment. There are however labor shortages, weak wage growth and persistently low inflation. The IMF expects the growth to continue through 2017 but to fall back in 2018 if the fiscal stimulus support decreases as currently planned.
The IMF directors consider that the current favorable environment provides an opportunity to go ahead with a comprehensive reform package to sustain growth, raise inflation and deal with the medium term challenges including fiscal consolidation and increasing potential growth.
A selected issues paper published at the same time as the report looks at tax policy challenges of an aging and declining population. This notes that the consumption tax should remain the main part of revenue reform but that the timing of rate increases is important. Other potential tax measures should also be examined.
The consumption tax is an important policy owing to the size of the public debt and the need for more health and social security spending for the ageing population. Although expenditure reform is also required Japan will need additional revenue. The consumption tax rate is currently low relative to other industrialized countries and there is therefore room for raising the tax rate. Also the efficiency of collection of the consumption tax is high so more revenue can be raised with low collection costs. Raising the consumption tax rate is likely to be less detrimental to economic growth than other tax options. A gradual increase each year would reduce any volatility of the impact on growth. The IMF is therefore proposing gradual increases to the consumption tax as part of a broader fiscal adjustment package.
Other potential tax measures
Other taxes such as a tighter personal income tax, property tax, inheritance tax or asset and wealth tax could also be examined to supplement the revenue gains that can be earned from the consumption tax increase.
Personal income tax
Tightening the personal income tax would contribute to revenue growth. The top rate of personal income tax is currently one of the highest in the OECD but reforms could focus on addressing inequality and eliminating disincentives to work. The low collection level of the tax indicates that there are a large number of deductions and these enable the higher earners to obtain benefits. The deductions could be replaced with more progressive measures such as targeted tax credits.
This could be linked to other reforms such as eliminating disincentives to full-time or regular work resulting from the operation of the spousal tax deduction. Exemptions for pension income could be reduced and targeted tax credits for elderly workers could increase incentives for them to remain in the labor market.
In Japan only 30% of local tax revenue is raised from recurrent property tax, compared with 100% in the UK and Australia, 90% in Canada and 75% in the US. Raising property taxes would provide a more stable revenue base for local governments and reduce the level of transfers from the center. This could encourage growth and raise revenue as property tax is the most efficient tax.
Asset or wealth tax
Only a few countries currently use wealth taxes and one important motivation for them has been as a temporary measure in a broader fiscal consolidation. Countries that scrapped their wealth taxes cited high administrative costs compared to revenue collected and problems of capital flight as reasons for its discontinuance. Generally a wealth tax is best structured with very few exemptions, a high threshold of liability and a flat marginal rate set at a low level.
Changes to the UK non-domiciled rules that were excluded from the Finance Bill 2017 are to be included in the Finance Bill (No 2) 2017. The Bill is to be published and considered by parliament in September 2017 following the summer recess. Updated draft legislation and explanations on the changes to rules on deemed domicile were published in July 2017, and when passed they will take effect from 1 April 2017.
The provisions relating to non-domiciled individuals include the following measures:
New deemed domicile rules provide that a non-domiciled individual will be treated as domiciled in the UK for all tax purposes in a tax year if that individual has been resident in the UK for at least 15 of the last 20 years.
The new rules will also provide that a non-domiciled individual who was born in the UK with a UK domicile of origin is to be treated as domiciled in the UK for income and capital gains tax purposes in any tax year in which that individual is UK resident; and the individual will also be treated as domiciled in the UK for inheritance tax purposes after one year of UK residence.
Individuals who are deemed domiciled from 6 April 2017 because they have been resident in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years can rebase their foreign located capital assets to market value on 5 April 2017 for purposes of capital gains tax. Consequently on a future sale of a foreign asset only the gain from 6 April 2017 to the date of sale would be liable to capital gains tax. This will apply automatically unless the taxpayer elects for the provision not to apply.
Segregation of mixed funds
Any non-domiciled individual who has been taxed under the remittance basis prior to 2017/18 will be able to rearrange mixed funds held in non-UK bank accounts and segregate them into their constituent parts. This is a transitional arrangement for the 2017/18 and 2018.19 tax years and applies only to nominated transfers of money from a mixed account to another account.
This is a useful measure because income and capital gains taxable under the remittance basis are treated by the law as remitted before non-taxable income. So if there is income taxable under the remittance basis and also non-taxable capital in a bank account any remittance from that account will be treated as a remittance of taxable income or gains rather than of the non-taxable element. By separating out the non-taxable element into a separate account the taxpayer can arrange to remit that non-taxable capital without a tax charge.
Inheritance tax on residential property interests
From 6 April 2017 inheritance tax is to apply to UK residential property interests held indirectly by non-UK domiciled individuals, for example through a non-UK company, and any debt used to finance the property will be subject to inheritance tax in the hands of the lender.
This means for example that any shares in non-UK close companies or interests in overseas partnerships the value of which is derived from UK residential property will come within the scope of inheritance tax. This will apply whether the individual is UK resident or non-resident.
Any debt used to finance the purchase, maintenance or repair of UK residential property will be treated as an asset within the scope of inheritance tax in the hands of the lender. If the lender is a non-UK close company or a partnership then look-through provisions will apply. Any security or collateral for the debt will also be within the scope of inheritance tax as part of the estate of the person providing the security.
On 15 June 2017, the Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department (IRD) issued a notice on the property tax obligations of property owners. Property tax is charged on property owners by reference to the actual rent receivable (including lease premium) in the relevant year of assessment. Owners in receipt of rental income must inform the tax department in writing if they are liable to tax and supply the particulars of the property not later than 4 months after the end of the basis period for the year of assessment (e.g. on or before 31 July 2017 for the year of assessment 2016/17), unless they have already received the appropriate tax returns.
A return issued by the IRD should be completed and furnished to the IRD within the stipulated time limit for official record updating purposes even if no rental was received in respect of the property concerned. Owners chargeable to property tax must keep sufficient rent records, such as lease agreements and duplicates of rental receipts for at least 7 years. They must inform the Department of any change of address in writing within one month.
Where a corporation has been exempted from property tax and there is a change in the ownership or use of the property, or in any other circumstances which may affect such exemption, the corporation must notify the Department in writing of the change within 30 days after the event. Heavy penalties may be incurred for failure to comply with the requirements of the Inland Revenue Ordinance.
On 12 June 2017 the Irish Revenue published the amended Capital Acquisitions Tax manual dealing with business relief. This involves changes to Part 12 to incorporate material from Tax Briefing No. 33 (September 1998) in relation to the treatment of debts attributable to assets that are not used for the purposes of the business concerned.
French newly elected president has committed to reduce the corporate tax rate from current rate of 33.3% to 25% with the aim to bring it in line with the EU average within five years.
The tax credit on research, innovation and the start-up status would be kept. However, it has not yet been clarified whether the scope or rate of those “special schemes” would be reduced.
Also, dividends, capital gains on securities and interest are expected to be taxed around at flat rate of 30% from January 2018, including social contributions, which are currently taxed at the marginal rate of 63.5% (45% with respect to income tax, 4% with respect to high income tax and 15.5% with respect to social contributions).
Wealth tax, known in France as ISF is largely perceived as a competitive disadvantage by individuals, businesses and investors in comparison to other European countries. It is therefore planned to have it abolished
The wealth tax also known as ISF of France is highly considered as disadvantage by individuals, businesses and investors compared to other European countries and therefore it is planned to be abolished.
However, ISF would be replaced property wealth tax (IFI) or property income tax (IRI) and this would not include the market value of securities held in companies.
On 9 May 2017, the Australian Government announced that it would amend the small business capital gains tax (CGT) concessions to ensure that they can only be accessed in relation to assets used in a small business or ownership interests in a small business.
The concessions assist owners of small businesses by providing relief from CGT on assets related to their business, as well as contribute to their retirement savings through the sale of the business. However, some taxpayers are able to access these concessions for assets which are unrelated to their small business, for instance through arranging their affairs so that their ownership interests in larger businesses do not count towards the tests for determining eligibility for the concessions.
The small business CGT concessions will continue to be available to small business taxpayers with aggregated turnover of less than $2 million or business assets less than $6 million. The measure will apply from 1 July 2017.