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Making sense of falling currencies, oil prices and effect of waving-off MAT in India

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By Gaurav Sharma

The world economy is at crossroads. Hit hard by the yuan depreciation and the slowdown of growth in China, the world currencies have pummeled under the fear of currency wars being waged to boost the domestic export market.

Vietnam and Kazakhstan have already loosened the grip on exchange rates. Russian rouble has declined between 4-7 per cent while the Indian rupee has fallen more than 3 per cent in the last two weeks.

Economists’ take on it:

However, economists have warned against such a move while pointing out that the Great Depression of 1930’s, a period during which economies raised import tariffs and cut currency rates through competitive devaluation of currencies further exacerbated the slowdown in growth.

multi-currencyExperts say that such tactics are a zero-sum game, which would lead to a race to the bottom. This is due to the fact that in any market situation, exports must be equal to imports, and therefore, cutting imports and boosting exports would be a futile gambit in the global scenario.

What does this mean in India?

In the Indian context, economists such as C Rangarajan, Prachi Mishra, Jehangir Aziz and Sajjid Chinoy have clarified the fact that the Indian export is not driven by exchange rate but is rather influenced by global growth.

Furthermore, the apparent devaluation of global currencies is more due to the strengthening of the dollar against other currencies rather than a deliberate devaluation by central banks.

Instead of succumbing to such a desperate measure, the country should smoothen out the kinks in its tax structure. But the failure to pass through the much-anticipated Goods and Service Tax (GST) Bill in the Parliament has prevented that eventuality from taking place.

The passage of the bill could have boosted the investor sentiment and would have given a fillip to growth in the country. Moreover, the development would have had the effect of erasing the haunting memory of retrospective tax levied on firms such as Vodafone, an image makeover which would have cemented Narendra Modi led BJP government’s commitment to a stable and fair tax regime.

If GST could not have been passed due to certain contentious clauses in the bill and the blockade by the opposition, another relief has been announced by the finance minister Arun Jaitley in the form of scrapping of the minimum alternate tax (MAT) retrospectively.

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Jaitley had earlier exempted capital gains made by FPI’s from the levy of 20 per cent MAT from the current year but not retrospectively.

Foreign companies had come under the MAT bracket when the Authority for Advance Ruling in 2012 stated that the Income Tax law did not make a distinction between Indian and foreign companies and therefore, MAT applied to them as well.

The ruling meant that the tax authorities started chasing foreign investors, demanding taxes on capital gains from the sale of securities.

Mauritius-based Castleton Investment Limited was subsequently asked to pay MAT, a decision whose validity will be tested in the Supreme Court in late September this year.

Is the government doing anything?

Now, with the government likely to accept the AP Shah panel’s recommendations,  the Foreign portfolio investors (FPI) will likely be saved from paying the tax even before April 1, 2015 and not just after the date mentioned in the next budget, by amending the tax law.

“The government should quickly issue a circular stating that MAT should not be applied to FPI’s from the period prior to April 1, 2015 as well”, said Suresh Swamy, partner, PwC while speaking to ET on the need for removing arbitrariness in the tax regime.

124119132Along with the clarity on tax structure which will reduce red-tapism in the country, the fall in global fuel prices will bring much cheer to the Indian economy. New shale gas discoveries in the US, record volume production of oil by OPEC and lifting of sanctions on Iran has meant that Indian oil imports (almost 75 percent of the domestic demand) would be lower in dollar value.

The current account deficit (difference between imports and exports) would fall and therefore, fuel (transport) and other prices would also decline, cooling down rising inflation which has brought much tears to the aam aadmi.

A $1 fall in global crude prices means India’s import bill falls by Rs 6,700 crores. This, coupled with the shift to direct benefit transfer (DBT) of LPG subsidy and deregulation of diesel price would rekindle the fortunes of oil marketing companies (OMC) such as OIL, ONGC, Reliance and Essar by overturning their under-recoveries.

It has been reported that the under-recoveries of OMC’s have been slashed by Rs 139,869 crores in 2013-14 to Rs 72,314 crores last financial year due to the above measures.

So, the big picture is that the Indian economy is on the right track. The hidden problem of burgeoning import dependence can be further ameliorated by removing bottlenecks such as bureaucratic sloth and complex regulatory processes.

Obliterating MAT for foreign portfolio investors is a step in that direction.

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GST’s outcome: 2017 registered as the most significant year for economy since Independence

The new indirect tax regime unifying the Indian market has four tax slabs of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent.

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Earlier this year, World Bank announced that India had jumped 30 places in its Ease of Doing Business rankings
Earlier this year, World Bank announced that India had jumped 30 places in its Ease of Doing Business rankings

New Delhi, Dec 25: The 70th year since Independence will go down in Indian history since the country switched over to the  (GST) regime, realising, thereby, the vision of a unified market in a federal system that guided the nationalist bourgeoisie in joining Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle to liberate India from the British.

Of course, the structural reform came accompanied by pain for trade and industry caught off-guard by the rigours of new compliance procedures. Queried by corporate leaders at industry chamber Ficci’s 90th AGM here earlier this month on how GST was impacting through lower tax collections, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley put the onus on them.

“It is you from industry, who have been calling for so long to bring GST… and no sooner do these initial problems in implementing a reform of such scale appear, then you want to go back to the system we’ve had for 70 years,” he said.

The earlier system was a myriad of central and state taxes where the movement of goods was slowed down by-products being taxed multiple times and at different rates.

State level taxes replaced by the pan-India GST include state cesses and surcharges, luxury tax, state VAT, purchase tax, central sales tax, taxes on advertisements, entertainment tax, various forms of entry tax, and taxes on lotteries and betting.

Central taxes replaced by GST are service tax, special additional customs duties (SAD), additional excise duties on goods of special importance, central excise, additional customs duties, excise on medicinal and toilet preparations, additional excise duties on textiles and textile products, and cesses and surcharges.

The new indirect tax regime unifying the Indian market has four tax slabs of 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent.

It has a novel feature whereby goods and services providers get the benefit of input tax credit for the goods used, effectively making the real incidence of taxation lower than the headline taxation rate.

Indian economy has surged many folds after the introduction of new tax structure
Indian economy has surged many folds after the introduction of new tax structure

The second half of the year saw a radical reworking of the items within the four-slab tax structure by the supremely federal institution of the GST Council, whereby all but 50 of over 1,200 items remained in the highest 28 per cent bracket. Those retained included luxury and sin items, the cess on which goes to fund the compensation to states for the loss of revenue arising from implementing GST.

With the Council’s decisions last month, GST has been cut on a host of consumer items such as chocolates, chewing gum, shampoos, deodorants, shoe polish, detergents, nutrition drinks, marble and cosmetics. Luxury goods such as washing machines and air conditioners have been retained at 28 per cent.

Eating out has become cheaper as all restaurants outside high-end hotels charging over Rs 7,500 per room will uniformly levy GST of five per cent. The facility of input tax credit for restaurants has, however, been withdrawn as they had not passed on this benefit to consumers.

Petroleum, including oil and gas, is a strategic sector that is still not under GST, while the industry has been pushing for its inclusion so as not to be deprived of the benefits of input credit.

Including real estate is another matter pending before the GST Council.

On the functioning of the Council, Jaitley who is its head had this remarkable insight about the way in which it had effected such large-scale rationalisation of the item rates in a short span of “3-4 months”.

“Everything has been achieved by consensus in the best spirit of cooperative federalism. There has been no politics, even from states which are controlled by opposition parties,” he told a gathering of industry leaders here.

The other side of GST was revealed through what the International Monetary Fund described as “short-term disruptions”.

With businesses going into a “de-stocking” mode on inventories in anticipation of the GST rollout from July and sluggish manufacturing growth, among other factors, pulled down growth in the Indian economy during the first quarter of this fiscal to 5.7 per cent, clocking the lowest under the Narendra Modi dispensation. Breaking a five-quarter slump, a rise in manufacturing sector output, however, pushed the growth rate higher to 6.3 per cent during the second quarter (July-September) of 2017-18.

Besides, technical glitches appearing on the GST Network portal, often unable to take a load of the last-minute rush to file returns, marred the filing of returns by traders, forcing the government to postpone filing deadlines several times. The glitches also led to export refunds piling up, resulting in a grave situation of the cash crunch for exporters, whose working capital was getting blocked.

In the final analysis, the GST balance sheet is provided by Gita Gopinath, Professor of International Studies and Economies at Harvard University, who is also the economic adviser to the Kerala Chief Minister.

“GST is a real reform. It is a way of formalising the economy. It is a very effective way of ensuring tax compliance, making it harder to earn black money. I mean, nothing ever goes away completely, but it just makes it harder to make it happen,” Gopinath said in Mumbai earlier this month. 

The icing on the cake came with the World Bank announcing earlier this year that India had jumped 30 places in its Ease of Doing Business rankings to get among the top 100 countries on the list. Though reforms in India’s direct tax regime figured among the parameters considered in the evaluation, GST had not been taken into account by the multilateral agency since their cut-off date was June 30. IANS