China introduces new e-invoicing rules to encourage e-commerce

Eight Chinese government agencies jointly announced guidelines to promote e-commerce and e-invoicing. These guidelines include the setting up of a trial e-invoice system, online information platforms and online payment standards, as well as the promotion of financial integrated-circuit (IC) cards.

The guidelines are necessary as data showed that the number of e-invoices had increased by 40% in 2009 from 2005. In the past, the cost of handling an invoice was about ?30 (US$39.70). After the e-invoice system is implemented, the savings are expected to reach up to 80%.

B2C and C2C e-invoicing, compliance concerns

A trial system for e-invoicing is imminent. According to the announcement, China will deploy trial points for e-invoice applications.

While a majority of B2C internet businesses can issue invoices, C2C businesses on Taobao, China's leading e-commerce platform, find it difficult to do so. Taobao sellers who do not own physical stores and licenses, and are not subject to taxes, complained that they were not qualified to issue invoices.

However the State Taxation Administration and the Ministry of Finance would be responsible for research on improving e-commerce tax collection and management systems, formulating temporary management rules and norms for e-invoices, and studying alternative e-invoicing systems.

Higher prices after e-invoicing adoption

After news of the trial e-invoice system emerged, consumers expressed concern that the higher invoice costs would be passed on to consumers, raising product prices.

Feng Lin, a researcher at the e-commerce research center, argued:

"e-invoices have the benefits of being paperless and highly efficient and enabling globalization, the use of e-invoices could reduce e-commerce's impact on traditional tax collection and management and build a foundation for future e-commerce tax collection."

"Where the trial program increases product prices, this would be addressed through better supervision of e-invoice tax collection," he said

Standardisation and scam

Meanwhile, e-commerce enterprises believe there is a need to unify credit certification institutions, and to prevent e-invoicing scam.

To address this issue, an analyst said payment procedures should be streamlined and action taken to prevent scams. Further, he recommended standardizing online transactions through third-party platform certification and promoting e-customs compliant cross-border online transactions.