Myanmar: Hefty Fines for flouting building regulations
From April 1, building owners in Mandalay will face hefty fines if their buildings violate government regulations or have been constructed without a valid permit. As per the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) building rules section 10 (a), (b), (c), the new fine rates for buildings constructed beyond the permit stipulations or without approval are US$10.89 (K15,000) per square foot for reinforced concrete buildings and US$7.26 (K10,000) per square foot for brick nogging buildings. The penalty for business and contract buildings will be US$10.89 (K15,000) per square foot, while for other buildings it will be US$5.81 (K8,000) per square foot.
Earlier, builders violating the norms could easily pay a small fine and continue flouting guidelines. The MCDC hopes that the new fines will force builders to construct in accordance with the regulations. In some cases, the fines can be higher than the value of the building depending on the violation. The MCDC also stipulated that buildings for business use should include parking lots, fire extinguishers, and automated fire extinguishing systems.
Thailand: Strong growth expected in e-commerce market
Analysts say that Thailand’s e-commerce market is expected to grow around 20 percent this year as more consumers shop online. At present, only three percent of consumers shop online, underlining the significant growth potential for the online market. Thai retailer Central Group only had one percent of its revenue come from online sales. The increased online sales expected this year are attributed to growing internet and smartphone use as well as improved logistics and e-payment systems. Quality and reliability of online shopping services will further help the sector.
The Electronic Transactions Development Agency predicted that the e-commerce market in Thailand will be worth US$7.1 billion (THB 2.52 trillion) this year. Thailand has around 41 million internet users, and 41 million Facebook, 33 million Line, 7.8 million Instagram, and 5.3 million Twitter users. Analysts have further stated that omni-channel strategies, meaning a balance between physical retail stores and online shops, would benefit the country.
Philippines: Central bank tightens rules on money lending
In a move to fight money laundering, the Philippines’ central bank Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) tightened rules on money service businesses (MSBs). MSBs include remittance and transfer companies (RTCs), money changers, and foreign exchange dealers. As per the new rules, large payouts of more than US$10,036 (PHP 500,000) or its foreign currency equivalent in any single transaction with customers will only be allowed via check or direct credit to deposit accounts. Money changers and foreign exchange dealers will be allowed to sell foreign currency in an amount not exceeding US$10,000 and not exceeding US$50,000 per month per customer. Exemption will only be given once an application is made to the BSP depending on the nature of the business.
RTCs and MSBs will also need to notify the BSP when they commence operations as well as for new accreditation of remittance of sub-agents. The new rules will limit MSBs’ ability to transact in cash while also placing a cap on the amount of foreign currency that can be sold to money changers. The development comes after anti-money laundering investigators said that around US$81 million stolen from a Bangladesh central bank was transferred by a Philippines remittance company.
Indonesia: New rules for transfer pricing
The Indonesian government approved a new Minister of Finance regulation, MoF 213/2016, on new rules for transfer pricing documentation, effective January 2017. The new decree stipulates that firms doing cross-border transactions with affiliates must prepare transfer pricing documents detailing their global structure and payments. The move aims to match global standards and curb tax avoidance. Multinationals with annual turnover of at least US$822.74 million (IDR 11 trillion) must prepare a country-by-country (CbC) report with information about their affiliates, revenue, profits, income tax paid in different jurisdictions, retained earnings, and assets. The companies are also required to prepare a master file and a local file, which should include its Indonesian company details, structure, assets, and transactions.
Companies with annual gross revenue of more than US$377,000 (IDR 50 billion) or accumulated transactions of more than US$150,800 (IDR 20 billion) for tangible assets and US$37,700 (IDR 5 billion) for intangible assets need to prepare only the master and local files. Transactions with tax residents in countries with a lower statuary rate than that of Indonesia’s 25 percent are also required to prepare the master and local files. The government is also offering companies to settle previous tax disputes by paying a penalty under an amnesty program until March 2017.
Indonesia faces shortage of engineers
Indonesia’s annual shortage of around 30,000 engineers is becoming a key obstacle to its infrastructure development plans. Currently, Indonesia has 57 million skilled workers but it would need 113 million by 2030 to meet the country’s requirements. Around 20 percent of Indonesia’s six million university and postgraduate students pursue Islamic studies, with most students ending up with unrelated jobs.
According to a 2015 national labor force survey, less than ten percent of Indonesia’s 250 million citizens have a university-level education. Of those, only eight percent choose an engineering study and more than half of these graduates work in different fields, such as banking. The government believes that the country needs a more skilled workforce if they are to keep up with other ASEAN countries and meet the Master Plan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development’s (MP3EI 2025) ambitious targets, which will be difficult to achieve with substantial infrastructure gaps.
Achieving Indonesia’s infrastructure development goals, which range from sea projects, airports, highways, and power plants, necessitates a technical workforce. The government is taking steps to establish more industry-oriented engineering colleges, technical institutes, and state-funded scholarships. The last few years have seen improvements, with 57 percent of Indonesians completing education after primary school in 2015, compared to 40 percent in 2002. Furthermore, the share of college-age Indonesians attending universities has risen from 20 percent to 25 percent over the last decade. However, economists believe that Indonesia still needs to do more to meet its infrastructure development goals by 2025.
Indonesia: Foreign ownership in digital payment companies reduced
Indonesia’s central bank, Bank Indonesia, has reduced foreign ownership in local companies that offer electronic payment services. As per Regulation No. 18/40/PBI/2016, effective on November 9, foreign ownership in such companies has been reduced to a 20 percent stake on the Operation of Payment Transaction Processing. This applies to companies that operate as card providers or offer switching, clearing, or settlement services for electronic payments.
The regulation does not retroactively apply to existing companies. Rather, companies in the digital payments sector, existing companies that expand into the sector, and existing companies in the sector that change ownership will have to abide by the new rules. Apart from this, other rules apply, such as e-wallet service providers that have 300,000 users will need to obtain a Service Provider license from Bank Indonesia.
Malaysia: Hiring in manufacturing sector improves
Malaysia’s manufacturing sector continued to register growth despite a 47.2 Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) reading in November, which is a little lower than September’s reading of 48.6. A score of 50 indicates improvement in the sector. The Department of Statistics (DoS) in mid-November issued an Industrial Production Index (IPI) showing industrial growth of 3.2 percent year-on-year, mainly from manufacturing and electrical sectors. Sub-sectors such as petroleum, chemical, rubber, plastic products, electrical and electronic products, non-metallic mineral products, and basic metal and fabricated metal products drove growth.
Manufacturing sales also improved to US$13 billion, a 1.1 percent year-on-year expansion. The Monster Employment Index (MEI), which records online hiring, stated that manufacturing was the top growth industry, with online recruitment in that sector expanding by 1 percent year-on-year in August. Local recruits also expect hiring to pick up in the short to medium term, with manufacturing a key sector to benefit the most. In addition to manufacturing, robust growth is also expected in IT and retail industries.
Singapore: Financial Information Sharing Agreement Signed with Canada, Finland
The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) has signed an agreement with Canada and Finland on Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information. As per the agreement, the first reporting year will be 2017 and the first exchange of information will be completed by September 2018. The automatic exchange of information (AEOI) based on the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) refers to regular exchange of financial information between countries for tax purposes to identify tax evasion by taxpayers through the use of offshore bank accounts. Singapore is committed to the CRS. Singapore-based Financial Institutions (SGFIs) will be required to submit financial information of account holders from jurisdictions they have agreements with. Singapore has similar agreements with nine other countries.
Philippines: Free Trade Agreement with European Free Trade Association Expected in August 2017
The Philippines’ government is expected to complete ratification of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the four-nation European Free Trade Association (EFTA) by August 2017. The four countries include Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The agreement is currently with the Department of Foreign Affairs and will later be sent to the Senate for ratification. This is part of the Philippines’ three-pillar strategy of widening and strengthening its access to Europe – one of the country’s biggest market.
Trade between EFTA states and the Philippines remained stable worth around US$ 850 million in 2015. As per the FTA, EFTA states will abolish all custom duties on industrial products, including fish and other marine products from the Philippines. In turn, Philippines will gradually eliminate custom duties on industrial products, fish and other marine products from EFTA states over a 10-year period. The Philippines is also currently negotiating a FTA with the European Union (EU), which will be in effect once internal procedures are completed.
Philippines: Manufacturing Continues in Upward Trajectory
Philippines registered a Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) of 56.5 in October, suggesting a continued expansion in the manufacturing sector. PMI measures the health of the manufacturing sector, and a reading of 50 and above indicates improvement in business conditions, while a score below that indicates deterioration. Manufacturing activity showed strong growth due to strong domestic demand for new orders. In addition, export sales also contributed to strong operating conditions. Further improvement in purchasing and employment, with continued stock building is likely to continue to help the sector.
The Philippines lead the region by a wide margin, followed by Vietnam. Nevertheless, analysts have stated that the continued depreciation of the Philippine Peso is likely to increase the average cost for manufacturing companies and reduce profits. Expensive raw materials used in production and the rise in prices of imported crude oil will also contribute to increased costs. Still, strong demand has allowed manufacturers to raise prices to keep up with costs. Proposed increases in public spending is also expected to give an additional boost to the manufacturing sector in the near term.