ACTRA SUBMISSION CONCERNING GST/HST ON E-COMMERCE

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1 ACTRA SUBMISSION CONCERNING GST/HST ON E-COMMERCE June Submitted to: International Tax Consultation, Tax Policy Branch, Department of Finance, 140 O Connor Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0G5 Via to:

2 INTRODUCTION AND EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. This is the submission of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) in response to the invitation in Budget 2014 for stakeholders to comment on whether the Government should require foreign-based vendors to register with the Canada Revenue Agency and to charge the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) when they make e-commerce sales to residents of Canada. 2. ACTRA brings to this process the important perspective of 22,000 professional performers working in the English-language recorded media in Canada. For 70 years we have represented the performers living and working in every corner of the country who are pivotal in bringing Canadian stories to life in film, television, sound recordings, radio and digital media. 3. Consumers are increasingly purchasing a wide range of physical and digital goods and services using a computer and via the Internet. Where they purchase these goods and services from a business that is located in Canada, they are typically charged the appropriate GST/HST. Where they purchase digital goods and services from a business that is located outside Canada, they are typically not charged GST/HST. 4. This situation is unfair because it creates a competitive advantage for the foreign business and Canadian governments lose tax revenues. The lost revenues for businesses in Canada s cultural industry are further straining their capacity to bring all kinds of Canadian stories to life in all media. The lost revenues for governments mean that Canadians must pay higher taxes, or our governments must reduce spending on programs that benefit Canadians. ACTRA urges the Government of Canada to amend tax legislation and appropriate regulations to require all non-canadian vendors of goods and services sold electronically to register with the Canada Revenue Agency and to collect GST/HST on all sales made to Canadian residents. THE GROWTH OF DIGITAL SALES IN THE CULTURAL INDUSTRY 5. In responding to the questions posed in the Budget, ACTRA is concerned primarily about the impact of e-commerce on Canada s cultural industry, including film, television, digital media, music, writing and publishing, performing arts, video games and visual arts. Our sector is a key driver when it comes to jobs and economic benefits in this country. Page 2 of 7

3 In 2011 the Canadian cultural industry contributed more than $85 billion or 7.4 percent to our GDP, and more than 1.1 million jobs to our economy. Film and television production alone created 262,700 full-time equivalent jobs in 2011 and generated $20.4 billion in GDP for the Canadian economy. 6. E-commerce refers to the sale of physical and digital goods, through an Internet connected device such as a computer, tablet, mobile phone, e-reader, gaming system, or other device. Digital goods and services are those that may be purchased and delivered to consumers solely through electronic means, such as music, videos, e-books and other written works, software and video games. 7. In 2013, total e-commerce sales in Canada were almost $21 billion, up 18 percent from the year earlier. E-commerce sales are expected to continue to grow at a double digit pace for the foreseeable future Cultural products were among the first products to be rented and sold via the Internet, and they remain a cornerstone of e-commerce. 9. Netflix is an Internet-based company that was launched in 1997 to provide DVDs to U.S. residents by mail. A decade later it began to deliver those videos on demand and via the Internet. It is now a subscription-based Internet provider of television programs, movies, documentaries and other digital media offerings. Amazon.com began life in 1994 as an online store through which consumers could order books that were shipped to them. In the last 20 years, it expanded its offering to include other media products, increasingly delivered digitally to the consumer s computer or other device. In the past decade, it has expanded into a broad range of consumer goods. Through the itunes Store launched in 2000, consumers have been able to purchase and download music and music videos, and increasingly television programs, e-books, applications, and movies. 10. Canadians have embraced information technologies and are among the world leaders in using the Internet. Over 90 percent of Canadians have a personal computer, and 83 percent subscribe to broadband Internet from their telephone, cable or satellite service provider. 2 Of the broadband households, 57 percent also have an MP3 player, 56 percent having a gaming console, 49 percent have a tablet and 25 percent have an e-book reader. 3 1 emarketer, Canada E-Commerce, December 2013, pg 3 2 CRTC, Communications Monitoring Report, September 2013, pg Parkes Associates, Video in Canadian Households, 2014-Q1, January 2014 Page 3 of 7

4 11. According to Statistics Canada, 84 percent of online shoppers placed at least one order with a company outside Canada in 2012, primarily the U.S. 4 This is hardly surprising in the cultural industry in light of the fact that the market leaders in movies, television programs and video clips (Netflix, YouTube), books (Amazon) and music (itunes) are based in the United States. CANADIAN MEDIA COMPANIES ARE AT A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE 12. Canadian broadcasters and broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) have a range of statutory obligations that are imposed legislatively or by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Foremost among these are: Requirements that broadcasters program a minimum amount of Canadian content. Requirements for BDUs to give priority carriage to Canadian services. Various rules concerning broadcasters spending on drama and other underrepresented programming categories. Requirements for broadcasters and BDUs to support talent development programs, particularly in music. A requirement that BDUs contribute at least 5 percent of their gross revenues to funds which support Canadian independent producers. Part 1 broadcasting licence fees which fund the CRTC s broadcasting regulatory activities, and Part II fees which are paid to the government to administer the broadcasting spectrum. 13. These Canadian companies fully comply with the GST/HST regulations and charge appropriate taxes on all services which they sell to Canadian residents, including via the Internet. Thus, they are at a competitive disadvantage compared with foreign vendors which do not charge the GST/HST on digital sales. The GST/HST ranges from a low of 5 percent in Alberta and the Yukon, to a high of 15 percent in Nova Scotia and almost the same level in Québec. 14. While there are a number of factors which have caused the challenges, Canadian media companies are witnessing pressure on their revenues. In turn, this means they have fewer resources to devote to content, including Canadian stories. 4 Statistics Canada, Individual Internet use and e-commerce, 2012, October 2013 Page 4 of 7

5 Annual revenues for private conventional television services, such as CTV, Global and TVA, have fallen by 5.0 percent in each of the last two years, to $1.9 billion in Annual revenues for Canadian pay television services, such as The Movie Network, have fallen in the last two years by 2.4 percent and 2.8 percent. Annual revenues for Canadian on-demand services have fallen in the last two years by 1.8 percent and 6.7 percent Canadian media companies are essential to Canadian culture and the economy and steps must be taken to level the playing field with their foreign competitors. ACTRA continues to urge the CRTC to require all Internet broadcasters to dedicate resources and space for Canadian productions which tell Canadian stories. We also urge the government to mandate the CRTC to require all Internet broadcasters to make financial contributions, similar to the five percent payments made by BDUs, to support Canadian production and Canadian creators, through our vibrant independent production industry. LOST TAX REVENUES FOR CANADA 16. It is very difficult to calculate the lost tax revenues that are experienced as a result of foreign vendors not charging GST/HST on e-commerce sales to Canadian residents. Some suppliers of media products, such as Amazon, itunes and Sony PlayStation Store, are established in Canada and charge GST/HST on relevant sales. Other companies, such as Netflix, are not established in Canada and have chosen not to register voluntarily with the Canada Revenue Agency. 17. The situation is complicated by CRA s GST/HST Policy Statement P-051R2, dated April This states that a supplier of digitized files such as audio or software applications is not carrying on business in Canada, unless they have a Canadian establishment or provide local after sales support to the consumer. 18. It is possible to make a rough calculation about the most dominant Internet supplier of television programs and movies, Netflix, which is based in Los Gatos, California. For a monthly fee of CAD $7.99, Canadian Netflix subscribers can watch as many movies and television programs as they want, including many of the most popular U.S. offerings. They can obtain these videos anywhere and anytime, on their computer, Internet-enabled television, tablet, or smartphone. When they subscribe to Netflix directly, they are not charged GST/HST. Interestingly, Canadians can also obtain a monthly subscription to Netflix through Apple s istore, and when they do so they are charged GST/HST. 5 CRTC Statistical and Financial Summaries Page 5 of 7

6 19. Netflix had total global sales of US $4.4 billion in While it does not report Canadian sales separately, the service is very popular in Canada. The Media Technology Monitor has tracked Netflix subscriber counts by means of regular surveys of Canadians. MTM s most recent survey found that 29 percent of Anglophone Canadians regularly use Netflix to watch television programs and movies. The rate among Francophones is only 8 percent, which is not surprising given the lack of French-language content Netflix no longer provides information about its subscriber levels in Canada. However, MTM estimates there are 5.8 million Canadians using Netflix to stream content. 7 This figure can be used to make a rough calculation of lost tax revenues. Assuming an average household size of 2.5 persons, there would be 2.32 million households with a Netflix subscription. The cost of a monthly Netflix subscription is CAD $7.99 and thus total annual revenues for 2.32 million subscribers would be $222.4 million. 21. Since Netflix would have only minimal Input Tax Credits to claim, the federal government alone is losing roughly $11.1 million from foregone GST, from this one foreign e-commerce provider alone. The amount lost by each province depends on it sales tax level. Using the median combined tax rate of 12 percent, the overall loss to Canada s provinces and territories would be an additional $15.6 million. 22. While there are unique circumstances in the cultural industry, the situation of other Canadian retailers relative to their foreign competitors would be analogous. Where retailers in Canada are required to charge GST/HST on goods and services which they sell via the Internet to Canadian residents, they would be at a competitive disadvantage with respect to foreign vendors which are not charging GST/HST on the Internet sale of the same goods or services. 23. It is important to note one other factor with respect to whether a foreign vendor is carrying on business in Canada. Where Canadian residents are purchasing goods and services through the Internet, they are generally paying with a credit card or other banking instrument, and using a Canadian-based company for these purposes. Certainly in the case of Netflix, which charges a monthly subscription fee in Canadian dollars, there is a strong attachment to Canada by virtue of this payment model. 6 Media Technology Monitor, The Rise of Netflix, April Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press, April Page 6 of 7

7 CONCLUSION 24. ACTRA urges the Government of Canada to amend tax legislation and appropriate regulations to require all non-canadian vendors of goods and services sold electronically to register with the Canada Revenue Agency, and to collect and remit GST/HST on all sales made to Canadian residents. 25. In particular, CRA s GST/HST Policy Statement P-051R2 should be amended to provide that any sale of digitized files including audio, video, software applications and games to Canadian residents is subject to the GST/HST, unless the supplier is a small trader. 26. ACTRA believes that foreign vendors of digital media products and services will comply with these rules, since some of their competitors already charge GST/HST. In addition, the larger and publicly-traded corporations could seriously damage their reputation if they failed to comply. - End of Document Page 7 of 7

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