With the implementation of GST, it becomes necessary for the government to ensure that benefit of reduced tax on goods is passed to consumers as a way out to manage inflation
Most of the political parties except Congress-led UPA have broadly agreed on the draft Goods and Service Tax (GST) law which is expected to become a reality from the next fiscal year. The initial target of the introduction of this ambitious legislation was set for April 2010 and now it may see the light of the day after 7 years, all thanks to our political maturity.
Finance ministry has released the draft GST law on June 16 and
concerns have been raised on some provisions which are likely to be addressed by the ministry before this law is enacted. I have tried to highlight the key benefits which this legislation is expected to bring and the requirement of a vigil mechanism to ensure that the benefits are passed on to consumers also.
Benefits which are expected from GST
1. Central and state taxes will be subsumed after the introduction of GST and will bring uniformity in indirect taxation across the country.
2. The seamless credit of taxes paid in the entire supply chain will be available to the producer of goods or provider of services which will eliminate the cascading effect of taxes on inputs and therefore price of products is expected to reduce.
3. Compliance burden will be reduced in the long run as there will be one platform for the filing of returns, payment of taxes and assessments.
4. Tax evasion will be easy to trace as all the records will be uploaded on a single platform and thus cross verification of purchase claimed by one dealer Vs sale declared by another dealer will be easy to corroborate. This will increase transparency and will check the black money circuit.
5. Reduced cost will increase the competitiveness of our products in an export market.
Precautions need to be taken before GST is implemented
Report submitted by the committee headed by Dr Arvind Subramanian suggested a standard rate of 16.9-18.9 per cent for GST and the final rate is expected to be ~18 per cent. Currently, tax on goods is approximately 22 per cent (Excise plus Sales Tax) while services are taxed at 15 per cent and accordingly services are expected to be more costly under GST regime. However, cost goods are expected to be lower due to reduction in tax. The government should ensure that this reduced cost is passed to consumers and businessmen don’t indulge in profiteering.
Analysis of GST impact for countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom etc. shows that implementation of GST will increase the inflation in the medium term. In India tax on services will increase by approximate 20 per cent from the current tax rate and therefore it becomes necessary for the government to ensure that benefit of reduced tax on goods is passed to consumers. Table 1 given below shows a trend in CPI after implementation of GST in some economies.
India is a free market economy and government intervention is not necessary for normal scenario to regulate the prices but taking a clue on inflationary impact of introduction of GST in other economies and expected increase in price of services, government should set up a mechanism to check the profiteering otherwise this new legislation will come as a double whammy for the common man. Global experience shows that whenever there is an upward revision in taxes, business houses pass it disproportionately to the consumers but only a part of the benefit was passed on when tax rates were reduced (refer Table 2).
GST was introduced in Malaysia from April 2015 and The Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism (MDTCC) urged the business owners to adjust their pricing of goods and services and pass on the benefits to consumers. The ministry announced to carry out investigations for anti-profiteering checks as per their law to ensure the fairness. Similarly, when GST was introduced in Australian the government also set up a commission to monitor the prices and protecting the interest of consumers.
GST will create a common market in India for goods and services but considering the vast geography of our country, prices of goods/services will not be similar at different locations. This will be on account of the difference in direct cost (e.g. labour etc.) and overhead costs (e.g. transportation, warehousing etc.) at different locations which add to the total cost of goods/services and therefore state-wise review and monitoring should be done for price effects post implementation of GST. Central government can consider the following to regulate and monitor the profiteering-
i. Sector-wise and commodity wise data should be monitored for various locations or states. It will provide the detail to assess the ground reality.
ii. Monitor the price change after implementation of GST. The retail price of the goods should be compared to check whether the ultimate consumer is getting the benefits.
iii. Carryout the pass-through test (i.e. net profit margin analysis). Information from the published quarterly results of various companies across all industries can be taken for this purpose to verify that the net profit margin as per centage of sales or cost is not increased due to change in tax.
iv. Quantum of pass-through may not be equivalent to the decrease in tax but it should not be the case that the overall tax amount is reduced but the price of the goods remains unchanged. During the transition phase, there should be signs which show that the benefit of reduced tax incidence is passed on to the consumers also and the price level will automatically become market driven in the long run.
v. Though CPI index provides a visibility about the price change but analysis of CPI index alone will not give the true picture after the implementation of GST. This is because weightage of services is low in the CPI basket and even a higher price increase for services will push the CPI by relatively lower proportion. Therefore head-wise price movement should be monitored in the transition phase and more attention should be given to those items which are of daily use.
vi. GST implementation will take time even if it is passed by Parliament Enforcement agencies should ensure that business men don’t increase the price in advance in anticipation of GST implementation because once the price is increased and accepted by the market it becomes a benchmark for the seller.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Anti-Money Laundering Specialist)