Gold smuggling likely to rise in India as festive buyers try to avoid new tax

A Indian legislation makes it mandatory for jewelers to keep records of customers’ personal identification numbers or tax code number for transactions above 50,000 rupees. (Reuters)
Updated 27 September 2017
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Gold smuggling likely to rise in India as festive buyers try to avoid new tax

MUMBAI: Gold smuggling in India, the world’s second-biggest consumer of the metal, is likely to rise during the country’s peak holiday season as buyers try to avoid paying a new sales tax and to dodge new transparency rules.
In August, India moved to include gold sales under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The law makes it mandatory for jewelers to keep records of customers’ personal identification numbers or tax code number for transactions above 50,000 rupees (SR2,870).
Indian gold demand typically rises in the last three months of the year as consumer buy more for the wedding season as well as for festivals such as Diwali and Dussehra.
“The government implemented the PMLA rule but it didn’t take efforts to popularise. Customers are not aware of the rule and are hesitating in giving necessary details,” said Surendra Mehta, secretary of the India Bullion and Jewelers Association. “Unaccounted sale will rise in the festive season as some customers are trying to buy without bills.”
The tax avoidance recalls the unintended consequences of India’s decision to raise import taxes on gold to 10 percent by August 2013.
The duty failed to curb demand but revived smuggling networks which, the World Gold Council estimates, imported 120 tons of gold in 2016, over one-fifth of total annual arrivals.
“The new rule is turning out to be counterproductive. Instead of giving required details, customers are buying without proper receipts to save tax,” said Harshad Ajmera, the proprietor of JJ Gold House, a wholesaler in the eastern Indian city Kolkata.
The sales tax on gold rose to 3 percent from 1.2 percent as part of a new nationwide sales tax regime that started on July 1.
“Jewelers are buying smuggled gold at discount in cash, then making jewelery and selling it to consumers without receipts,” said Daman Prakash Rathod, director at wholesaler MNC Bullion in the southern city of Chennai.
In India, less than 4 percent of the people pay income tax. Many tax evaders choose to park their illicit wealth in gold as it is nearly as liquid as currency in the country.
The new limit of 50,000 rupees is too low and makes it mandatory to seek identification details of almost each customer, said Kumar Jain, vice president, Mumbai Jewellers Association.
“The rule has hurt sentiments. Usually demand improves ahead of Dussehra but this year demand is very weak,” Jain said.
Indians will celebrate Dussehra on September 30, a holiday when buying gold is considered auspicious.
Rural demand for gold, the driver of two-thirds of India’s demand, was weak because of erratic monsoon rains and rising gold prices, said Mangesh Devi, a jeweler in the western state of Maharashtra, who caters mainly farmers.
Local gold prices have risen nearly 9 percent so far in 2017.
India’s food grain production from summer-sown crops is likely to fall 2.8 percent in 2017/18 from a year ago.


IMF urges Lebanon to make ‘immediate and substantial’ fiscal adjustment

Updated 22 June 2018
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IMF urges Lebanon to make ‘immediate and substantial’ fiscal adjustment

  • Lebanon’s debt to GDP ratio is the third largest in the world
  • Donor states and institutions are looking to Lebanon to implement the reforms in order to release billions of dollars worth of financing pledged at a conference in Paris in April

BEIRUT: Lebanon requires “an immediate and substantial” fiscal adjustment to improve the sustainability of public debt that stood at more than 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of 2017, the IMF executive board said.
An IMF statement released overnight said IMF executive directors agreed with the thrust of a staff appraisal which in February urged Lebanon to immediately anchor its fiscal policy in a consolidation plan that stabilizes debt as a share of GDP and then puts it on a clear downward path.
Lebanon’s debt to GDP ratio is the third largest in the world.
“Directors stressed that an immediate and substantial fiscal adjustment is essential to improve debt sustainability, which will require strong and sustained political commitment,” the IMF executive board statement said.
It reiterated estimates of low economic growth of 1-1.5 percent in 2017 and 2018. “The traditional drivers of growth in Lebanon are subdued with real estate and construction weak and a strong rebound is unlikely soon,” it said.
“Going forward, under current policies growth is projected to gradually increase toward 3 percent over the medium term.”
Lebanon’s economy has been hit by the war in neighboring Syria. Annual growth rates have fallen to between 1 and 2 percent, from between 8 and 10 percent in the four years before the Syrian war. Two former pillars of the economy, Gulf Arab tourism and high-end real estate, have suffered.
Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been designated to form a new government following parliamentary elections last month, Lebanon’s first since 2009, and has stressed the need for the state to see through long-delayed economic reforms.
Donor states and institutions are looking to Lebanon to implement the reforms in order to release billions of dollars worth of financing pledged at a conference in Paris in April. In Paris, Hariri promised to reduce the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP by five percent over five years.
The directors “noted that a well-defined fiscal strategy, including a combination of revenue and spending measures, amounting to about 5 percentage points of GDP, is ambitious but necessary” to stabilize public debt and put it on a declining path over the medium term.
They recommended increasing VAT rates, restraining public wages, and gradually eliminating electricity subsidies. Last year the government spent $1.3 billion subsidizing the state power provider — 13 percent of primary expenditures.