Philippines passes major tax reform law

President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to launch a “golden age of infrastructure,” with spending of about $170 billion for roads, railways and airports during his six-year term. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Philippines passes major tax reform law

MANILA: The Philippines has passed a tax reform bill at the heart of President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic agenda, officials said Thursday, raising levies on coal, cars, soft drinks and cosmetic surgeries to finance the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
Economists and environmentalists have praised the package, with the Philippines winning a credit rating upgrade this week from Fitch Ratings and green campaigners hailing the higher tax on coal.
Officials said the tax reforms, the most significant revenue-boosting measure introduced since Duterte took office last year, would finance increased spending on infrastructure to ease the cost of doing business.
“The tax reform (act) seeks to achieve a simpler, fairer, and more efficient tax system characterized by lower rates and a broader base, to encourage investment, job creation, and poverty reduction,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said in a statement.
The government has warned that bad roads, crowded trains and poor Internet speed have hindered the country’s competitiveness and threaten to derail efforts to lift millions out of poverty.
The key provisions of the bill, which Duterte is expected to sign later this month, includes a rise in the excise tax on coal, the fuel that runs almost half the country’s power plants.
The coal tax will increase incrementally to ten-fold or 100 pesos (SR7.44) a ton by 2020 according to the version passed in Congress late Wednesday.
The act also significantly raised excise taxes on automobiles, petroleum products including diesel, gasoline and cooking gas, and jacked up mining levies.
The effort to raise revenues also led to a “sweetened beverage tax,” an excise tax on “cosmetic procedures, surgeries and body enhancements,” and the doubling of tax rates on dollar deposits, capital gains tax and stock transactions.
The affected sectors have warned of an inflation spike but Congress has described the legislation as pro-poor for lowering income tax rates and exempting some small businesses from paying a sales levy.
Duterte has vowed to launch a “golden age of infrastructure,” with spending of about $170 billion for roads, railways and airports during his six-year term.
International credit rating agency Fitch had earlier cited the impending passage of the tax reforms as one of the reasons behind its decision to upgrade the Philippines’ credit rating on Monday.
“We estimate the bill to be net revenue positive, reflecting an expansion of the VAT (value-added tax) base and higher taxes on petroleum products, automobiles and on sugar sweetened beverages, which would more than offset a lowering of personal income taxes,” Fitch said in a statement.
Congress this week also passed a 3.767-trillion-peso national budget for 2018, a 12.4-percent increase from last year.


Russia's Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela's PDVSA - source

Updated 35 min 16 sec ago
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Russia's Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela's PDVSA - source

MOSCOW: Russian lender Gazprombank has decided to freeze the accounts of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and halted transactions with the firm to reduce the risk of the bank falling under U.S. sanctions, a Gazprombank source told Reuters on Sunday.

While many foreign firms have been cutting their exposure to PDVSA since the sanctions were imposed, the fact that a lender closely aligned with the Russian state is following suit is significant because the Kremlin has been among Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s staunchest supporters.

“PDVSA’s accounts are currently frozen. As you’ll understand, operations cannot be carried out,” the source said. Gazprombank did not reply to a Reuters request for a comment.

PDVSA brandished the story as “fake news” on its Twitter account in capital red letters, but did not reply to a request for comment.

Reuters reported this month that PDVSA was telling customers of its joint ventures to deposit oil sales proceeds in its Gazprombank accounts, according to sources and an internal document, in a move to try to sideline fresh U.S. sanctions on PDVSA.

Washington says the sanctions, imposed on Jan. 28, are aimed at blocking Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue after opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president and received widespread Western support.

Gazprombank is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom.

The bank has held PDVSA accounts for several years. In 2013, PDVSA said it signed a deal with Gazprombank for $1 billion (£774 million) in financing for the Petrozamora company. The source said that Petrozamora accounts were frozen, too.

Russian officials have said they stand by Maduro and have condemned opposition actions as a U.S.-inspired ploy to usurp power in Caracas.

But Russian firms find themselves in a quandary, caught between a desire to endorse the Kremlin line and back Maduro, and the fear that by doing so they could expose themselves to secondary U.S. sanctions which would harm their businesses.