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What tax incentives does China offer for technology companies?

by Mark Hedley
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China offers a range of tax incentives to encourage the growth of industries and technologies such as semiconductors, artificial intelligence and biopharmaceuticals. But what kind of companies qualify for these innovation tax incentives?

As China endeavours to shift from a low-end mass manufacturer to a high-end producer, the government has doubled down on encouraging targeted investments in R&D and technological innovation. The ongoing technology confrontation with the US is another factor at play, impacting a wide range of segments from access to chips and other key input technologies and products. This has resulted in increased government support for the technology sector as a strategic one and for which government support has increased.

This article summarises the major tax incentives to encourage technology innovation currently available in China and how they can help UK businesses.

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High and new technology enterprises (HNTEs)

HNTE treatment, which reduces a qualified taxpayer’s applicable corporate income tax (CIT) rate from the standard 25% to 15%, is one of the core tax incentives encouraging innovation in China.

In addition to the lower CIT rate, starting from 1 January 2018 for qualified HTNEs, losses that occur five years prior to the year in which they become qualified and have not been made up can be carried forward to subsequent years to be made up. The maximum carry-forward period has also been increased to 10 years (usually only five years).

To qualify for HNTE status, a company must meet a range of criteria, including owning the intellectual property rights for the core technology of its main product or service, and having more than 10% of its total staff engaging in R&D.

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Starting in 2021, certain companies in Beijing can qualify for HTNE status with lower qualifications or via simplified procedures. To be eligible, a company must be a production and research enterprise engaging in integrated circuits, artificial intelligence, biopharmaceuticals, or key materials, with a reported annual revenue of over RMB 20 million; be registered in Beijing and be in operation for over a year; and spend at least 50% of total R&D expenses within China.

Qualified companies are required to provide far fewer materials than usual to apply for HNTE status, which can be submitted online. The National HNTE Leading Team Office will approve the application soon after the it has undergone expert assessment and review by the HNTE accreditation authority. The public comment procedure is also exempted, meaning overall turnaround time is much shorter.

Technology-based small and medium-sized enterprises (TSMEs)

TSMEs fall under the scope of SMEs that conduct technology-based activities and have scientific and technological personnel who are involved in R&D activities and obtain IP for creating high-tech products or services.

Unlike HNTEs, TSME status has special requirements on an enterprise’s number of total employees (no more than 500), annual sales revenue, and total assets (no more than RMB 200 million). On the other hand, while becoming an HNTE requires that the core technology of a company’s key products or services is specially encouraged by the state and the ratio of income from high-tech related operations against total income is not lower than 60% in the current period, TSMEs have no such requirements. In general, it is easier to apply for TSME status for smaller businesses.

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Advanced technology service enterprises (ATSEs)

ATSE status is another core innovation tax policy to encourage the provision of information technology outsourcing (ITO), business process outsourcing (BPO), or knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) services to overseas entities. To be qualified as an ATSE, an enterprise must fulfil a range of requirements, including more than 50% of its staff holding a college degree or above.

Originally launched in the Suzhou Industrial Park in 2016, the ATSE incentive was rolled out nationwide in 2017, reducing the corporate income tax rate for a qualified ATSE from the standard 25% to 15%, similar to HNTEs.

In addition, ATSEs are subject to zero VAT for the provision of certain offshore services, which means they can be exempted where a simple tax computation method is applicable, or they can use the tax exemption, credit, and refund method where a VAT general tax computation method is applicable.

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Beyond the major innovation tax policies introduced above, there are other preferential policies designed to encourage the development of the tech sector, such as the tax incentives for the integrated circuit and software sector and faster refund of VAT incremental credit balance for advanced manufacturing taxpayers.

Businesses in China may find documentation requirements and application procedures tough going if they are not familiar with the established tax system and eligibility criteria for accessing supportive measures. It is recommended that potentially qualified enterprises carefully study the application requirements for each incentive and choose one or more best suited to their own situation. For example, ATSE status is more suitable for an enterprise that doesn’t own the local IP rights of the key technologies of its core products or services, since HNTE status has local IP requirements.

A version of this article was first published by China Briefing, which is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia from offices across the world. Readers may write to info@dezshira.com for more support.

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