By Dezan Shira & Associates
Editor: Ellena Brunetti
Revised and Updated by Bradley Dunseith
Malaysia uses both progressive and flat rates for personal income tax, depending on an individual’s duration and type of work in the country. As expatriates may fall into either tax category depending on their work, it is important to understand Malaysia’s basic tax structure.
The Income Tax Act of 1967 structures personal income taxation in Malaysia, while the Malaysian government’s annual budget can change the rates and variables for an individual’s taxation.
In this article, we explain how expatriates should calculate their individual income tax in Malaysia. We highlight exceptions to tax rates and penalties for noncompliance.
Thailand: First quarter GDP growth fastest in four years
The Thai economy recorded its fastest growth in four years during the January-March 2017 period. This has been propelled by stronger exports, consumption and growth in tourist arrivals despite weaker private investment and public funding. According to a poll conducted by Reuters, gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to have expanded a seasonally-adjusted 1.2 percent in the January-March period from the previous quarter, when growth was 0.4 percent – the best pace since the final quarter of 2012. As per the poll, growth is expected at 3.3 percent in 2017, up from 3.2 percent in the previous year.
According to data from Thailand’s central bank, exports grew at 6.6 percent in January-March, private consumption at 2.9 percent and farm income grew at 20 percent. Exports comprise about two-thirds of the Thai economy. Tourist numbers rose to 9.2 million in the January-March period from 7.8 million in the previous quarter, when some tourism-related entertainment activities were curtailed following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016.
By Bradley Dunseith
In April, 2017, the World Bank (WB) released their biannual East Asia and Pacific Economic Update, entitled, “Sustaining Resilience.” As the title suggests, the WB anticipates growth in East Asia and Pacific, including ASEAN states, to remain resilient despite risks from global and regional vulnerabilities. In this article, we go through “Sustaining Resilience” and summarize the WB’s forecast for developing ASEAN states generally as well as their country specific predictions for economic growth.
About the report
The WB predicts that large developing economies will continue to grow moderately while smaller regional economies will benefit from the rapid growth of their neighbors as well as high commodity prices. The WB marked that poverty has continued to decline in most countries and will continue to fall with sustained growth and rising labor incomes. However, the WB report noted that global policy uncertainties means that countries must address macroeconomic vulnerabilities so as to prepare for external shocks to the economy. External shocks – such as changes in US policy – disproportionately affect smaller countries; as such, the WB report strongly recommends small economics to improve the efficiency of their public spending in preparation of needed structural changes.
MALAYSIA: Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan exempted from cabotage policy
With effect from June 1, 2017 the states of Sarawak and Sabah as well as the Federal Territory of Labuan will be exempted from the cabotage policy. As per the erstwhile policy, only Malaysia-flagged ships were permitted to transport cargo from Peninsular Malaysia to these three territories and vice versa. As a result foreign vessels carrying freight bound for the three territories had to stop at the port of Klang in Selangor state in Peninsular Malaysia in order to transfer the goods to domestic ships for onward shipment to Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan.
The Malaysian transport ministry has announced that the exemption will however not apply to freight transport between Labuan and the states of Sarawak and Sabah. While the domestic shipping industry has protested against the government’s move to end the cabotage policy, it has been welcomed by the local administrations. It is believed that the policy had led to higher prices of commodities and as a result a higher cost of living in the three territories. Observers have stated that now it will be possible to ship goods directly to Sarawak, Sabah and Labuan without having to transfer at a Peninsular Malaysian port.
By Bradley Dunseith
Labuan is an offshore, Malaysian island, which has the benefit of low tax regimes while still retaining the protection of Malaysia’s laws and regulations. This means Labuan entities benefit from nearly all the Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) Malaysia has signed with over 70 countries while profiting from tax exemptions under the Labuan International Banking and Financial Center (IBFC).
Considered the ‘pearl of Borneo,’ Labuan is located off the coast of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and borders Brunei by sea. The territory is strategically located in close geographical proximity to financial capitals like Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Labuan is technically comprised of seven islands – Labuan Island proper and six smaller satellite islands – and enjoys tropical weather. Labuan offers multiple ferry connections to mainland Malaysia and Brunei; its airport is served by two daily flights to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and one daily flight to Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah state capital. The island has a deep sea port and is planning to further develop its airport.
The Philippines: Fresh FDI surge registered
According to figures released by the Philippines’ central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the country registered US$685 million in fresh Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in January, a 13.2% increase from US$605 million registered over the same period in the previous year. The foreign capital received in January is also the highest monthly FDI inflow since a US$744 million FDI inflow in November 2016. The central bank has stated that the fresh FDI surge comes as investors remain optimistic on the growth potential of the country’s economy, which is backed by strong macroeconomic fundamentals.
The Philippines economy, with an upwardly adjusted 6.9% growth rate, was one of the fastest growing markets in Asia in 2016. Industry watchers and economists have credited the country’s growth successes to large foreign currency reserves and a sound banking system. According to the central bank, the top sources of FDI at the beginning of the year were Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and Japan. Among the largest recipients of foreign capital are electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply; construction; wholesale and retail trade; administrative and support service; and financial and insurance services sectors. The central bank expects FDI to reach at least US$7 billion by the end of this year.
Singapore – Ghana sign Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement
Singapore and Ghana have signed a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTA) on March 31, 2017. The agreement aims to reduce double taxation and tax disputes by clarifying the taxation rights on all types of income flows arising from cross-border business between the two countries. The DTA aims to reduce trade and investment barriers and increase trade flows between the two countries.
The agreement stipulates that withholding taxes on dividends, interest, and royalties will not exceed seven percent, while withholding taxes on services will be capped at 10 percent. All rates will come into effect on or after January 1, following the year when the DTA comes into force. The DTA will come into force after its ratifications by the two countries.
Indonesia: Largest car market in ASEAN
In 2016, 3.16 million cars were sold in the ASEAN region, according to the latest data from ASEAN Automotive Federation. Around 1.06 million cars, 33 percent of the total car sales, were sold in Indonesia. Thailand follows at second place with 768,788 cars. However, Thailand leads in terms of car production among the ASEAN countries. The country produced 1.94 million vehicles, accounting for almost 50 percent of total ASEAN manufacturing. Indonesia produced 1.17 million cars in 2016.
Industry experts believe Indonesia’s dependency on foreign investment for the automobile sector and the lack of components manufacturing industry will impede its manufacturing capabilities in comparison to Thailand’s current manufacturing capacity. Unlike manufacturing, car sales will continue to see a growth in Indonesia due to a growing economy and increase in purchasing power. Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam follow Indonesia and Thailand in terms of car sales.
Malaysia – EU trade to grow by 20-30 percent
Malaysian and EU authorities expect the proposed Malaysia-European Union (EU) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will increase trade volumes from 10 percent to 20-30 percent. The growth is based on EU’s existing FTA with South Korea, which grew by 35 percent in the last five years. Both South Korea and Malaysia have similar EU trade volumes. Both parties are pushing to implement the agreement by the end of 2017. The countries met at the ASEAN Regional Seminar on Transit and Transshipment along with eight ASEAN member states.
Malaysia’s trade with EU has moved away from being a participant country to sharing best practices, especially in the area of export control after they implemented the Strategic Trade Act (STA) 2010. The act is an export control law that encourages exports of strategic items. Both parties also focused on trade laws, transit and transshipment regulations, regional cooperation, and challenges in building strategic trade controls. EU is Malaysia’s third largest trading partner, with the last three years witnessing a positive trade balance and a growing number of EU companies investing in Malaysia.
Malaysia: World’s best country to invest
According to a recent report by Y&R’s BAV Consulting, The Wharton School, and US News & World Report, Malaysia leads as the best country for investments. The report based on a survey of business decision-makers on corruption, dynamism, economic stability, entrepreneurship, tax environment, innovation, labor force, and technological expertise ranks Singapore a close second. Industry experts believe robust growth, stable inflation rate, and low unemployment rates in the past few years provide a conducive environment for investors.
Industries such as services, infrastructure, manufacturing, tourism, education, and construction which are the focus of the 2017 Budget and 11MP Economic Plan, are expected to attract majority of the investment. Industry experts believe the country has a shortage of scientific and technical workforce that can still discourage few investors. The average annual labor productivity growth between 2011 and 2015 was 1.8 percent, less than 11MP target of 3.7 percent. Investors seeking to produce for exports and operating in free trade zones will find Malaysia an efficient economy, while on the other hand, accessing local markets will still be challenging for investors due to non-transparent tender processes.