PwC calls for overhaul of tax structure ahead of AEC

BANGKOK, 25 October 2012 – PwC Thailand, part of the world’s biggest network of corporate audit, tax and advisory firms, called for business and government leaders to adjust the Thai taxation structure and outdated laws to stay competitive before the implementation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 as fast-emerging Asian markets play a greater role in driving the world’s economy.

State agencies, government regulators and businesses must prepare themselves in several aspects for the AEC, particularly by amending laws and regulations on tax-related issues that hinder the country’s competitiveness on trade and investment, Sira Intarakumthornchai, CEO of PwC Thailand, said during PwC’s 14th annual Conference: Maximise Shareholder Value through Effective Tax Planning 2013 – ‘Thailand and the Emergence of Asia’.

“Thai businesses could confront a number of tax-related obstacles when exploring cross-border opportunities in trade and investment if we were to enter the upcoming economic integration unprepared,” Sira said. “We [Thailand] must step up and prepare ourselves for the forthcoming changes by studying thoroughly the possible impacts of the AEC on Thai businesses to see how best we can thrive in the new market environment.”

The disparate policies in each country must be aligned and standardised. Additionally, taxation structures in some areas, e.g., capital gains tax and corporate income tax, would have to be reformed in order to better support Thai companies looking to make overseas investments, and in return to attract more foreign businesses into the country, Sira said.

Thavorn Rujivanarom, Tax Lead Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers Legal & Tax Consultants Ltd., said that the greater economic integration under AEC will not only bring opportunities for Thai enterprises to benefit from a much bigger market with an approximate 600 million population, but also the threat of greater competition from neighbouring countries.

“The Revenue Department has prepared certain measures to support the forthcoming economic integration a tax collection approach that will facilitate international trade and investment between countries, ease the flow of funds and enhance labour mobility within the region. However, it also needs to reform the tax structure properly in order to improve Thailand’s competitiveness,” Thavorn said.

“At the same time, it has to be able to accommodate foreign taxpayers and international businesses by strengthening its cooperation with the tax authorities in each member country. The government must also create some incentives to attract a greater inflow of foreign investment and adopt a comprehensive approach to persuading these foreign investors to keep their returns within Thailand.”

Proficiency in English is another area that is essential and needs to be developed if we are to compete with our neighbours effectively, he added.

Thailand’s relatively high taxation could degrade its attractiveness and deflect investment to competing countries with lower or no taxation. The Thai government has cut corporate income tax from 30% to 23% this year; and will ultimately reduce it to 20% in 2013, but that alone isn’t sufficient. There must be a revision of regulations that could present obstacles to investment in the longer term. Consideration should also be given to Thailand’s personal income tax rate of 37% to limit the disparity.

To accommodate changes associated with the opening up [of the region], changes need to be made, particularly in the area of regulatory redundancy involving licensing, customs procedures and double taxation, he added.

Like its Asean counterparts, the Thai government has gradually changed certain tax rules to cope with the expansion of business and investment when the AEC comes into effect. However, it has been considering adopting anti-tax avoidance legislation to include the issues of transfer pricing, thin capitalisation, foreign-controlled companies and general anti-avoidance rules to protect the country from any abusive tax scheme.

As for those looking for business opportunities in neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and Laos, Thavorn said that, despite the enormous potential, investors must understand the implications of tax rules and foreign investment laws, tax regimes and incentives, and essentially to beware of unforeseeable risks.

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