It’s great to see that NZ Customs has introduced a website, WhatsMyDuty? to help us calculate how much GST (and other duties) we owe when importing goods. That includes ebooks, it seems:
I’d assumed eBooks were duty free, but it’s going to be hard to have them assessed as they don’t actually arrive in NZ, at least not in the physical sense.
This website is an important first step, but it isn’t enough.
The next step is to place a giant Pay Now button on the site, and accept tax payments via credit card against our IRD and importer numbers. After that provide an API so that this service can be entangled with everything else online, and then systematically work with the largest importers so that GST is charged at source.
- When physical goods arrive, with pre-payment they could be shown as tax-prepaid and cleared instantly, matching up against our importer number.
- Shipping and sending entities can accept payment from the customer and clear it through this system, publishing the results to the customer so they they know they are compliant.
- Those payments could appear in Xero, personal finance managers and the like so that we can track and prove compliance
- Allowing us to easily pay and track payments for purchases of non-physical goods, like ebooks, that are not currently assessed gives evidence to be used in later years when the IRD ties up with large importers like Amazon.
- and so on.
As with the IRD, the emphasis should be on helping people understand their liabilities, and making it easy to pay them. This is part-way there, but a great minimum viable product.
Overall this is the first step to a future where only people choosing to cheat don’t pay GST & duty on imports of all goods, physical or virtual. It’s not nearly enough to tilt the balance yet, as the collection of import duty from individuals is currently inconsistent and painful. But close the loopholes, provide us with some great tools and we’ll start to solve the big issue of tax collection for purchases made offshore.