The most recent VAT gap study showed that the Member States of the EU in 2015 missed out on around 150 billion EUR. According to estimates, around 50 billion EUR of that is due to cross-border VAT fraud.
The proposal of the European Commission to tackle this cross-border VAT fraud is to tax any cross border supplies in the EU. Currently, for goods these are broken down into a (potentially) exempt intra-community supply in the country of departure and a taxed intra-community acquisition in the country of arrival. For services, in a B2B environment these are simply taxed in the country of establishment of the recipient.
In the Common VAT Agreement of the States of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is the Treaty signed by the GCC States to introduce VAT, cross-border supplies of services are treated in the same way as currently in the EU. For goods however, these supplies are in a B2B sale taxed in the country of recipient and the customer is liable for the payment of VAT on this supply.
In both the EU and the GCC the issue of cross-border VAT fraud was examined. The circumstances are obviously different. The EU has a VAT system in place since decades, whereas the GCC is only just about to start, with the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia introducing VAT on 1 January 2018.
The EU is choosing a different way forward than how it currently operates. Going forward, as from 2022, it intends to tax cross border supplies and hold the seller accountable for VAT. In other words no reverse charge applies. An exception would be made for buyers who are trustworthy, so-called certified taxable persons. These buyers would be allowed to reverse charge on the purchase. In order to mitigate the additional administrative burden, a one stop shop will be foreseen to report cross border transactions.
The GCC had the intention to implement an electronic services system (“ESS”). The system was designed to match sales and purchases of goods and services within the GCC. It is comparable to the EU’s European Sales Listing but it would work in a safer and quicker way matching transactions and giving both seller and buyer reassurance. The GCC is kicking off though with not all States implementing VAT simultaneously and with the ESS not in place. Once in place it will provide a good test case to determine whether it is an effective measure to reduce cross border fraud.
Although the EU has a much longer tradition in the application of VAT, it chooses an option which is not necessarily more effective in tackling cross border VAT fraud. An electronic system matching sales and purchases in a fast and effective way, constituting a type of block chain solution, may be much more effective than taxing all cross border supplies. Time will tell whether either the EU’s option or the GCC option will be the more effective in tackling cross border VAT fraud.