Amazon, Flipkart seek rollback of India tax on online sellers

February 17, 2020 09:34
Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart said the proposed tax will hurt the online retail industry. Photo: Reuters/AFP

Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart are among online retailers demanding that India scale back a proposed tax on third-party sellers on their platforms, saying the burden of compliance will hurt the fledgling industry, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The online retail industry is braced for a possible 1 percent tax on each sale made by sellers on their platforms from April if the proposal is approved by parliament next month.

The move is part of a broader plan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to increase tax revenues and counter a sharp economic slowdown due to weakening consumer demand.

But the tax will hurt the country’s fledgling e-commerce sector, according to a presentation prepared by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) for the government and seen by Reuters.

“[It] would cause irreparable loss to the entire industry with increased compliance burden,” the lobby group said on behalf of e-commerce companies. “This will also lead to reduced trading activity.”

Another influential lobby group, the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), is asking the government to give e-commerce firms more time to comply with the tax proposal.

It wants the implementation of the new tax to be deferred to April 1, 2021, or later, according to a copy of its proposal reviewed by Reuters.

In an interview with TV channel ET Now this month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the measure was not an “additional burden” as taxpayers would have an option to offset it later.

“Eventually, if you’re a taxpayer, that’s going to be offset,” she said. “Why should every [Tax Deducted at Source] be seen as additional tax?”

Retail industry executives have asked the government not to levy the new tax on the amount they contribute to a nationwide goods and services tax. They have also expressed concerns about how long refunds could take.

Some third-party sellers are also pushing back against the tax, arguing it would negatively impact their working capital, adding that they already contribute to the nationwide sales tax.

This tax will be “extremely detrimental to the growth and sustenance” of small online sellers and make the model “unviable”, Unexo Life Sciences, a seller of healthcare products on Amazon’s India website, said in an email to the Central Board of Direct Taxes that was reviewed by Reuters.

Online vendors, or sellers with revenue of less than half a million rupees in the previous year, as well as bricks-and-mortar retailers, will be exempted from the new tax, although they are subject to the nationwide sales tax. Reuters

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