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News from China
EU relaunches common tax rules
18th June 2015

 THE European Commission yesterday relaunched plans to introduce common tax rules for multinationals, saying that public anger over tax avoidance and a new approach should win over EU member states that blocked the idea four years ago.

The commission, the European Union’s executive, said it wanted a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB) to prevent “aggressive” tax planning measures such as artificially shifting profits to the country where rates are lowest.

“What we are doing is part of a trend,” Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a news conference.

“During the crisis our citizens have had to contribute a lot. What they don’t want to see is that corporations, because they have sophisticated legal advice, can juggle between administrations.”

Corporate taxes have remained in the headlines because of the way multinationals can legally reduce their bills by basing themselves in low-tax centers. The EU is already investigating the tax arrangements of Apple, Starbucks and Amazon in some member states.

Moscovici said countries were working on the basis of tax rules drawn up in the 1930s and more recent ad-hoc decisions by individual member states, but said a common approach was needed.

A previous attempt to bring in CCCTB drew opposition from member states who saw it as a first step toward harmonizing tax rates, regarded as a sovereign issue.

Moscovici said that was not the plan, nor was it the commission’s intention to lay down a minimum corporate tax rate.

Under CCCTB, companies would use just one EU system to compute their taxable income rather than dealing with the rules in 28 different member states, saving businesses about 700 million euros (US$790 million) per year.

It would be designed to eliminate mismatches between national systems, which companies can currently exploit.

Source: Shanghai Daily, June 18, 2015
Acquisition indicates quicker reform
17th June 2015

 SHANGHAI Pudong Development Bank plans to buy 97.3 percent of Shanghai International Trust Co for 16.4 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) as the city accelerates financial reform.

The bank and the trust company are both held by Shanghai International Group, the city government’s investment arm.

Pudong Bank will issue 999.5 million shares at 16.36 yuan each to 11 trust shareholders to pay for the acquisition, according to a filing to Shanghai Stock Exchange yesterday.

The purchase signals the state-backed company plans to create a financial conglomerate, said Song Qinghua, president of the School of Finance at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

Shanghai International Group, which owns 1.8 trillion yuan of assets under management, is overhauling its holdings in banks, brokerages, insurance companies and trusts.

The move also comes as the Chinese government accelerates the biggest reform of its state-owned enterprises since the late 1990s.

Lu Zhengwei, senior economist at the Industrial Bank, said commercial banks are feeling the heat from the liberalization of interest rates and eying acquisition of insurance, securities and trust firms to expand revenue stream.

Pudong Bank’s Shanghai-listed shares will continue to be suspended due to the acquisition. They last traded on June 5.

Source: Shanghai Daily
Uber’s rival to raise at least US$1.5b
16th June 2015

 CHINA’S top taxi-hailing app backed by tech giants Alibaba and Tencent will raise at least US$1.5 billion, Bloomberg News reported yesterday, as the company gears up to take on Uber in the country’s expanding transportation market.

The amount values Xiaoju Kuaizhi, which runs the combined Didi and Kuadi apps, at US$12 billion to US$15 billion and the money will come from new and old investors, Bloomberg said, without elaborating.

The popularity of private-car booking enterprises such as Uber and China’s dominant taxi-hailing apps Kuaidi and Didi has soared in the country, where taxis are criticized for poor service and routinely ignore customers on the street.

Uber takers in China were making almost 1 million trips per day with business doubling in the last month, according to a leaked company e-mail reported last week by the Financial Times.

Uber plans to invest 7 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion) in China during 2015, according to the e-mail.

Many cities in China are regulating the apps used for booking taxis, including barring them during peak traffic periods or banning drivers from using them while operating vehicles out of safety concerns.

Source: Shanghai Daily, June 16, 2015
China vows to put ‘billions’ in new EU fund
15th June 2015

 CHINA will pledge a multi-billion dollar investment in Europe’s new infrastructure fund at a summit on June 29 in Brussels, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters.

While the exact amount is still to be decided, the pledge follows major European Union governments’ decision to join the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

It is expected to come with a request for return investment in China’s westward infrastructure drive — the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — constructing major energy and communications links across Central, West and South Asia to as far as Greece.

“China announced that it would make (X amount) available for co-financing strategic investment of common interest across the EU,” the draft final statement says, adding that agreements will be finalized at another meeting in September.

An EU diplomat said the Chinese contribution was likely to be “in the billions.”

EU and Chinese officials have said Chinese banks are looking mainly at telecoms and technology projects.

Premier Li Keqiang, who will attend the summit in Brussels, will agree with EU leaders that the 315-billion-euro (US$354.9 billion) fund will “create opportunities for China to invest in the EU, in particular in infrastructure and innovation sectors.”

If sealed, the deal will be a success for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who faced skepticism last year when he proposed the European Fund for Strategic Investment, because EU governments are putting in little seed money.

France, Germany, Italy and Poland have each announced they will provide 8 billion euros, while Spain and Luxembourg have pledged smaller contributions.

The bloc is relying mainly on private investors and development banks to fund projects selected from an initial list of almost 2,000 submitted by the 28 member states, from airports to flood defenses, that are together worth 1.3 trillion euros.

A big Chinese investment might raise questions about governance of the fund, which is so far strictly a European institution. An EU diplomat said it was not known if China would seek representation commensurate with its stake.

The decision to invite China into an EU fund could cause some friction with Washington, which is wary of Beijing’s rising influence and upset that Europe rebuffed its calls to stay out of the AIIB.

China is already offering Latin America US$250 billion in investment over the next decade, while Chinese companies have poured money into Africa to guarantee commodity supplies in exchange for building new roads, hospitals and rail lines.

EU-China quid pro quo

Alessandro Carano, an advisor to the European Commission on the fund, defended the decision to welcome Chinese investors.

“The purpose is to mobilize the liquidity in the market. We don’t differentiate among the owners of the funds,” Carano said. “China is a big investor already. We don’t want any prejudice.”

In return for its investment, China wants a quid pro quo with Europe, whereby European companies and governments would take a greater interest in President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

China aims to create a modern Silk Road Economic Belt with railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, power grids, Internet networks, maritime and other infrastructure links.

“We are looking for ways to build up synergies between the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and the Juncker plan to invest in good products,” China’s Ambassador to the EU Yang Yanyi said, describing the exercise like a “dating agency” to line up the right European projects with Chinese money.

“There is a strong political commitment, there is common ground for cooperation. China is in a position to invest.”

Senior EU officials have already met with Chinese banks and technology companies.

At one seminar, executives and officials were present from the Bank of China, HSBC, China Construction Bank Europe, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Chinese telecoms companies Huawei and ZTE.

In addition, the commission is exploring whether the EU could become collectively a member of the AIIB, since the bank is open to “economic entities” rather than just states — a term crafted to enable Taiwan to participate, but which could create a loophole for Brussels.

That would require some capital contribution from the small EU external relations budget. It remains to be seen whether EU states prickly about national sovereignty, such as Britain, agree to the EU joining the AIIB.

Meanwhile, an EU diplomat said the European Investment Bank has been advising China behind the scenes on governance norms and best practice in setting up the AIIB.

Source: Shanghai Daily, June 15, 2015

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