China Removes Parcel Tax for Cross Border e-Commerce Retail Imports

Posted by Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Dezan Shira & Associates
Editor: Jake Liddle

The China General Administration of Customs (CGAC) has recently decided to make adjustments to the classification table and tax tariff list of imported goods issued in 2012. Taking effect from April 8, 2016, the policy will cancel parcel tax for cross border e-commerce and has been implemented with an aim to level competition between online platforms and traditional brick and mortar import stores.

An adjusted parcel tax scheme now only applies to goods brought back into the country for personal-use by Chinese residents with a value exceeding RMB 5,000, and for non-residents’ personal-use goods with value exceeding RMB 2,000. Goods amounting to less than these amounts are tax exempt. The tax brackets have been reduced from four levels (10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, and 50 percent) to three. Below is a table detailing the new scheme:

parcel tax new

Influence on Cross Border e-Commerce Industry

Previously, imported goods that retailed online via cross border e-commerce sites were treated as personal postal articles and were subject to parcel tax with comparatively lower rates – around 10 percent if worth less than RMB 1,000. Furthermore, taxes amounting to under RMB 50 were waived as an incentive for exporters that sell general consumer goods to China.

With the implementation of the new tax scheme, these goods are now treated the same as ordinary imported goods, subject to import value-added tax (VAT) and consumption tax, which vary according to type of commodity. Although consumers can still enjoy a 70 percent discount on import taxes for single cross border e-commerce transactions under RMB 2000 ( RMB 20,000 for yearly transactions), the overall tax burden on exporters/retailers will increase and is almost certain to exceed 10 percent.

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Certain low priced consumer products such as food and baby products, as well as luxury products that value above RMB 2,000, are to be most affected by this adjustment to tax rates. For example, before the change of policy, the price of a popular German branded baby formula came in at around RMB 258. After the adjustment – where tax exemption on items amounting to less than RMB 50 no longer applies – it will be subject to a tax of 11.9 percent, making the cost total RMB 289. However, commentators have noted that e-commerce giants like Tmall and JD.com will likely absorb the tax rise of certain commodities, squeezing profits to keep a competitive edge. And where some consumers’ will lose the desire to buy, the industry will ultimately benefit in the long run: previously, some online importers  took advantage of the parcel tax to avoid taxes.

Conversely, given proper pricing strategies, the costs of selling higher priced products (below RMB 2,000) such as cosmetics, clothing and electronics might fall. For instance, a foreign cosmetic product priced at RMB 600 was subject to a 50 percent parcel tax before the tax reform (tax payable was RMB 300). After the adjustment, the product can enjoy a 30 percent discount of import VAT (17 percent) and consumption tax (30 percent), making the tax payable total RMB 197.4

Following tax rates adjustment, the Chinese government issued the “Cross Border e-Commerce Imported Goods List” to clarify what types of goods are allowed to be imported under a cross border e-commerce model. The 23-page “positive list”, covering a broad range of products from toys to household appliances, is aiming to clamp down on foreign manufacturers that use cross border e-commerce as a tax-free channel to export raw materials to China. Customs clearance times for items found on the list will be substantially reduced, allowing goods to reach customers within one to two weeks as opposed to the previous several months.


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