Imported books used to be non-taxable in the Philippines. Until it was reported that for two months virtually no imported books entered the country. The booksellers were told by the Customs officials that imported educational and non-educational books will now be taxable by 1% and 5%, respectively. Allegedly, one of the contributing factors for this change is the success of Twilight (book) authored by Stephenie Meyer.
We are probably aware how marketable is Twilight Saga until now. Whether within the Philippines or not, I think the volume and frequency of importation will obviously be noticed by Customs officials. In the Philippines, it was reported that when Rene Agulan (a Customs Examiner) opened a shipment of Twilight books, a duty was demanded to be paid on it and the importer obliged. That is, while there is an existing Florence Agreement. This a U.N. treaty that was signed by the Philippines in 1952, guaranteeing the free flow of “educational, scientific, and cultural materials” between countries and declaring that imported books should be duty-free.
The said Customs Examiner demanded the duty because Twilight books in particular are not educational. Well, I agree. Not fitting to be categorized as a scientific (what about the study of “vegetarian vampires”?) or cultural material, too. But why are they implementing this just now? A lot of importation had been transacted in the past, the same way that a number of agreements and rules have been revisited, what went wrong in the interpretations?
It was mentioned in RA 8047 (the Book Publishing Industry Development Act) that “… the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.” According to Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales, this lacked a comma after the word “books,” which meant that what was tax and duty-free was only books used for book publishing.
Generally, rulings/guidelines are revisited to assess their adequacy and applicability, to make it more reasonable and effective for the current situation. The same way that we are aware of the purposes of taxation, which are to generate revenues (funding), to distribute income (from wealthy to poor sections, if the government’s fair), to reprice (to address external factors) and as a representation (rulers and citizens relationship).
In UAE, taxation is less complicated primarily because income are non-taxable as well as the other vicious merchant’s activities. That’s why at times you probably would hear a number of people claiming that gadgets and other items are cheaper here. It’s because the government generally has enough funds due to its oil reserves and other sources (e.g. immigration fees, etc.). But sooner or later I’m seeing the possibility of imposition of duties on certain activities and items to discourage or encourage one aspect, whichever is necessary.
In the Philippines though, I’d like to think that more than the generation of funds as a main goal, the Bureau of Customs are doing the repricing to shift the readers preference (i.e. encouraging people to read educational, scientific and cultural materials). But I think not. We could only hope for an honest government. I think our Customs officials are inclined to become Orwellian. That is they do try to revise the history in the favour of the State’s interpretation of it.
The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax. – Albert Einstein
Now, don’t blame Twilight, huh?! Seriously, anything marketable and attractive are probable subject of taxation. Taxation is beautiful. If honest reciprocity is existing. 🙂