Home ServicesFinance What does tax reform mean for Chinese micro- and small-sized enterprises?

What does tax reform mean for Chinese micro- and small-sized enterprises?

by Avi Nagel
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A raft of tax reforms has made it easier for China’s micro- and small-sized companies, writes Lily Li

In January, China’s State Council, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, announced support for the country’s main job creators, micro- and small-sized enterprises (MSEs), in the form of tax cuts to both Value Added Tax (VAT) and Corporate Income Tax (CIT).

MSEs are defined as businesses with less than RMB three million in annual taxable income (revenue minus deductible costs), less than 300 employees, and total assets worth less than RMB 50 million.

The aim of the reform is to lessen the tax burden of China’s micro- and small-sized businesses and promote long term developments in innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation. Amongst the announcements were the following changes:

  1. The VAT exemption threshold for small-scale VAT taxpayers increases from RMB 30,000 to RMB 100,000 of monthly revenue.
  2. MSEs are to pay an effective CIT rate of 5 percent for taxable income less than RMB 1 million, and 10 percent for taxable income between RMB 1 – 3 million, much lower than the standard CIT rate of 25 percent.

In addition to these policies, China’s State Council released preliminary policy updates on March 5 that it will be further reducing the VAT rates, as well as other tax policies aimed at reducing the tax burden and supporting the long-term development of Chinese businesses. Changes announced include:

  1. The VAT rate for manufacturing sectors is reduced from 16 percent to 13 percent.
  2. The VAT rate for transportation, construction, real estate and other industries is reduced from 10 percent to 9 percent.
    3. The VAT rate for services remains unchanged at 6 percent. However, more deductions for the bracket will be introduced.
  3. Mandatory pension contributions by employers are reduced to 16 percent.

As opposed to announcements made on January 8, which focused on China’s micro- and small-sized businesses, the preliminary policy updates from China’s State Council on March 5 were looked forward to by all businesses. However, there are two sides to every coin. Despite providing significant tax relief worth an estimated RMB 1.3 trillion to businesses in 2018, total tax income still grew by 8.3 percent (RMB 1.2 trillion) outpacing GDP growth. Much of the recent good news for Chinese MSEs is widely believed to be foreshadowing more stringent enforcement of tax and compliance regulations in the coming years. 

Strengthening tax administration

China is transitioning from being a Fapiao driven tax system to an information driven tax system. This information driven tax system relies on big data gathered from multiple administrative authorities to identify inaccurate financial reports and tax shortages. The current support for China’s MSEs is largely about preparing for stronger enforcement of tax compliance and other areas such as social security which is thought to be underpaid by roughly RMB 700 billion annually, according to 51 Social Security. The China State Council is using its current tax reforms to strengthen the MSE sector in order to ensure that they can sustain themselves when they will be required to comply with the full scope of applicable laws.

The current agenda is largely about preparing for stronger enforcement of tax compliance and other areas such as social security, which is thought to be underpaid by roughly RMB 700 billion annually

Monitoring personal bank accounts

The focus of much Chinese tax reform is on the use of personal bank accounts – including WeChat and Alipay – to receive business revenue. This practice allows those involved to maintain two sets of accounting books; one set of ‘external’ books for tax filing and compliance and another, of ‘internal’ books, to assess the business performance.

The Central Bank of China upped the ante for such businesses when they announced they will no longer be exercising control over the opening of new bank accounts but instead will increase the monitoring of both company and personal transactions. Transactions that exceed predetermined amounts and frequency are flagged and reported to the Central Bank of China on the second working day and the selected accounts will be passed to tax authorities or other relevant authorities for further investigation.

 New accountability measures

Another new policy concerning the Information Disclosure of Major Taxes and Untrustworthy Cases shows China’s government’s concentrated effort to build an accountability system for developing a healthy and fair business environment. Tax evasion and dishonest behaviours will result in the company’s credit level downgrading to class “D”. Should this happen, the affected company will not only face many difficulties in their business operations but the grading will also affect the owner and responsible accountant’s personal life. In addition, details of the illegal behaviour and their personal information will be made public on government-run media for three years. Thus, proper financial management and being in compliance have become very important for business owners and accountants.

With more stringent oversight, it’s increasingly common that poor-quality accounting practices will result in financial penalties due to non-compliance. In light of these recent changes in China’s tax regulations, business owners are advised to review their compliance status and correct any issues sooner rather than later. For those businesses who already comply with applicable regulation and pay their taxes, the Chinese State Council has promised support to allow them to prosper under the tax reform agenda. However, any businesses attempting to cheat the tax authorities are likely to face prosecution under China’s information-driven tax system.

Lily Li, FCCA, is managing partner and director of small business finance advisory at Axel Standard. She has an MBA in finance and has served as CFO for multiple MNCs in China. 

For more information about tax issues speak to CBBC’s Avi Nagel on avi.nagel@cbbc.org

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