Amazon re-opens US online store to Australian shoppers after backlash

Amazon had cited Australian tax laws to explain the initial block that prevented Australians from placing any orders on its US website. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2018
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Amazon re-opens US online store to Australian shoppers after backlash

  • ‘It’s a very quick backtrack on a decision that obviously hasn’t benefited them’
  • One Amazon shopper said he had already given up on the Australian site

SYDNEY: Amazon.com said on Thursday it would stop blocking Australians from shopping on its US site after a customer backlash, unwinding a move which has tarnished the e-commerce giant’s launch in the world’s 12th-largest economy.
The reversal relieved shoppers who had complained since July about being locked out of the much larger range of offerings they had grown accustomed to on the US site following the opening of Amazon’s local platform a year ago.
But it also raised questions about why Amazon had cited Australian tax laws to explain the initial block — an issue rival eBay had managed to resolve without locking Australians out of its US site.
“It’s a very quick backtrack on a decision that obviously hasn’t benefited them,” said Daniel Mueller, an analyst at Vertium Asset Management.
“It’s probably a reflection on the Amazon Australia website not being great ... I think to bolster the Australian website they’ve had to do this.”
The world’s second-largest company had prevented Australians from placing any orders on its US website after Australia applied a 10 percent tax on imported online goods worth less than A$1,000 ($726).
At least 32 US states have passed or are soon expected to pass similar taxes, but Australia had been the first market where Amazon responded by shutting out customers based on where they lived.
On the eve of its Black Friday sales, Amazon said it had figured a way to levy the tax without blocking access to the US site.
One Amazon shopper said he had already given up on the Australian site. Paul Boon, who runs a home-entertainment installation business, said the wall brackets he had bought from the US site were either unavailable or too expensive on Amazon’s Australian platform.
“They sort of lost a sale there, I guess. Maybe I’ll have another look next time I have to do an order, but you just move on,” he said.
An Amazon spokesman said that after listening to customer feedback, the retailer had built the “complex infrastructure needed to enable exports of low-value goods to Australia and remain compliant with (Australian) laws.”
The move only covered products sold by Amazon and is yet to be extended to third-party sales, he added.
The launch of Amazon’s Australian website a year ago triggered a steep selldown in traditional retail stocks such as Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd, JB Hi-Fi Ltd. and Myer Holdings Ltd.
Although Amazon does not disclose sales figures in Australia, National Australia Bank research shows online sales growth slowing over the 12 months to September, and comprising just under 9 percent of the broader retail market.
EBay, which also does not disclose its Australian sales, said it found the transition complex but was able to collect and remit taxes without changes for customers.
“We want our buyers to be able to buy what they want,” said eBay Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Tim MacKinnon.


No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

Updated 21 May 2019
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No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

  • Lebanon’s proposed austerity budget may please international lenders but it could enrage sectors of society
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 percent of GDP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s finance minister said on Tuesday there was no need for more talks over the 2019 draft budget, seen as a vital test of the government’s will to reform, although the foreign minister signalled the debate may go on.
The cabinet says the budget will reduce the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from last year’s 11.2%. Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP.
“There is no longer need for too much talking or anything that calls for delay. I have presented all the numbers in their final form,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil suggested the debate may go on, telling reporters: “The budget is done when it’s done.”
While Lebanon has dragged its feet on reforms for years, its sectarian leaders appear more serious this time, warning of a catastrophe if there is no serious action. Their plans have triggered protests and strikes by state workers and army retirees worried about their pensions.
President Michel Aoun on Tuesday repeated his call for Lebanese to sacrifice “a little“: “(If) we want to hold onto all privileges without sacrifice, we will lose them all.”
“We import from abroad, we don’t produce anything ... So what we did was necessary and the citizens won’t realize its importance until after they feel its positive results soon,” Aoun said, noting Lebanon’s $80 billion debt mountain.
A draft of the budget seen by Reuters included a three-year freeze on all forms of hiring and a cap on bonus and overtime benefits.
It also includes a 2% levy on imports including refined oil products and excluding medicine and primary inputs for agriculture and industry, said Youssef Finianos, minister of public works and transport.
“DEVIL IN THE DETAIL“
Marwan Mikhael, head of research at Blominvest Bank, said investors would welcome the additional efforts in the latest draft to cut the deficit.
“There will be some who claim it is not good because they were hit by the decline in spending or increased taxes, but it should be well viewed by the international community,” he said.
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: “The numbers will be of some comfort to investors, but the devil will be in the detail.”
“Even if the authorities do manage to rein in the deficit, it probably won’t be enough to stabilize the debt ratio and some form of restructuring looks increasingly likely over the next couple of years,” Tuvey said.
The government said in January it was committed to paying all maturing debt and interest payments on the predetermined dates.
Lebanon’s main expenses are a bloated public sector, interest payments on public debt and transfers to the loss-making power generator, for which a reform plan was approved in April. The state is riddled with corruption and waste.
Serious reforms should help Lebanon tap into some $11 billion of project financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year.
Once approved by cabinet, the draft budget must be debated and passed by parliament. While no specific timetable is in place for those steps, Aoun has previously said he wants the budget approved by parliament by the end of May.
On Monday, veterans fearing cuts to their pensions and benefits burned tires outside the parliament building where the cabinet met. Police used water cannon to drive them back.