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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

Next Story

Know How Venezuela Can Restore Back Its Economy

A U.S.-aligned government in Caracas would likely seek to restructure its debts to creditors like China and Russia, two countries that continue to support the Maduro government. China has loaned Venezuela $20 billion in exchange for future oil shipments.

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Venezuela
A man holds a sign that reads in Spanish "They attack for oil" during a march of in support of the state-run oil company PDVSA, in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 31, 2019. VOA

Oil-rich Venezuela’s near economic collapse may make it easier for U.S.-backed opposition leaders to reverse socialist policies instituted by late President Hugo Chavez, if they are able to oust his successor, Nicolas Maduro, according to analysts.

“I do think at the very beginning, because the Venezuelan people have suffered so much there, they’re going to be willing to give a lot of political capital to the new leadership to do all of these changes,” said Dany Bahar, an Israeli and Venezuelan economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington.

People line up to receive bags with food subsidized by the Nicolas Maduro's government near the international bridge of Tienditas on the outskirts of Urena, Venezuela, Feb. 11, 2019.
People line up to receive bags with food subsidized by the Nicolas Maduro’s government near the international bridge of Tienditas on the outskirts of Urena, Venezuela, Feb. 11, 2019. VOA

Economic collapse

In the last five years, Venezuela’s economy has shrunk by nearly half. Nationalization of much of the private sector, including the oil industry, has driven away foreign investment. Hyperinflation, aggravated by the increasing fiscal deficit, is now close to 180 percent, with prices of goods tripling every month. More than 3 million people have fled the country to escape increasing poverty.

The government-subsidized assistance programs for the poor have been plagued by chronic food and medicine shortages, due in part to corruption and declining oil revenues that account for more than 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings.

Maduro has claimed the humanitarian crisis in his country is a “fabrication,” and blamed U.S. sanctions and capitalist sabotage for the economic shortfall.

The United States, as well as most of Latin America and Europe, has recognized Juan Guaido, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s interim leader, and support opposition claims that Maduro’s reelection last year was illegitimate after he banned most opposition parties from running.

FILE - Opposition National Assembly President Juan Guaido talks with reporters upon his arrival to the Venezuelan Central University for a conference on economic plans for reviving the country in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 31, 2019.
Opposition National Assembly President Juan Guaido talks with reporters upon his arrival to the Venezuelan Central University for a conference on economic plans for reviving the country in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 31, 2019. VOA

Market reforms

With the “Chavista” socialist model discredited, new Venezuelan leadership aligned with the United States would be expected to embrace strong market reforms that would entail an infusion of international aid and credit, privatizing state-controlled industries and cutting government subsidies.

“Market mechanisms have been completely destroyed. The government centralizes everything, decides who gets what, rations all sorts of goods, food, medication, everything. So, you have to get rid of that and just allow the market to reappear, which doesn’t really take very long if the situation on the ground is stable,” said Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

Fighting inflation will likely be the top priority for any new government. Recommended fiscal controls would include introducing a new currency tied to international exchange rates, as was done by Brazil and Argentina in the past. Venezuela’s bolivar has lost most of its value, as the Maduro government reacted to inflation by printing more money while its oil revenues plummeted and its deficit grew.

“The moment you move from very high inflation to low inflation, the first thing that you see is a dramatic reduction in poverty rates. This is what happened in Argentina. This is what happened in Brazil, you know, at the time when they were fighting their own inflationary problems,” said de Bolle.

Privatizing oil industry

The International Monetary Fund would likely require Venezuela to lift price controls and privatize state-owned companies, including the oil and gas company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), in exchange for billions of dollars in aid and loans. The reforms and influx of capital would help ease food and medicine shortages.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but production has fallen from three 3 million barrels per day (bpd) in 1997 to just over 1 million bpd in 2019. Maduro contributed to the decline by putting generals in charge of the company rather than industry professionals, and replacing qualified staff with thousands of political supporters.

“If we’re generous with the interpretation, they have also been doing social programs and things like that. If we’re not generous, it has become a vehicle of corruption for the regime. So, there’s going to need to be a deep restructuring of the oil company,” said Bahar.

A U.S.-aligned government in Caracas would likely seek to restructure its debts to creditors like China and Russia, two countries that continue to support the Maduro government. China has loaned Venezuela $20 billion in exchange for future oil shipments.

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Ending Venezuela’s free oil shipments of an estimated 50,000 barrels per day to Cuba, another key Maduro ally, could redirect billions of dollars to support limited social programs at home.

If Maduro is removed from office, Washington is expected to ease oil sanctions imposed this year that are estimated to cut Venezuela’s oil exports by two-thirds. Oil sales to the U.S. had provided nearly 90 percent of Venezuela’s hard currency before the sanctions were enacted. (VOA)