Alibaba urges higher import duty exemption

Alibaba urges higher import duty exemption

E-tail giant wants clear customs procedures

A man checks out products available at Lazada, an e-commerce site in which Alibaba holds a majority stake. KOSOL NAKACHOL
A man checks out products available at Lazada, an e-commerce site in which Alibaba holds a majority stake. KOSOL NAKACHOL

Jack Ma's flagship unit Alibaba has asked the Thai government to raise the maximum 1,500-baht import duty exemption in a push that could boost the country's demand for imported goods and cut customs officials' workload.

The e-commerce giant has signed deals to splash more than 10 billion baht in investment in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.

A decision on Alibaba's proposal depends on the government's policy, said Kulit Sombatsiri, director-general of the Customs Department. Some countries have waived imported tariffs for products worth up to 3,000 or 4,000 baht, he said.

Import tariff exemptions for small-ticket items would alleviate the workload of customs officials in managing various low-priced products.

Mr Kulit said the agreement with Alibaba calls for the department to cooperate in implementing clearer customs procedures for one year before the online giant will open an e-commerce park in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), planned for 2019.

The department has adopted a QR code system to sort Chinese products shipped to the EEC's duty-free zone for transit to other countries, Mr Kulit said. Products in transit are now exempt from import duty.

The department also allows operators who import Chinese goods for assembly in the EEC's duty-free zone to run a business without a licence from the Industrial Works Department.

Alibaba last Thursday signed memorandums of understanding with several Thai government agencies covering cooperation in four areas: using e-commerce to boost local farm product exports to China; developing human resources for Thai e-commerce operations and startups; running a digital tourism platform in Thailand; and Alibaba's 11-billion-baht investment in an EEC smart digital hub.

Alibaba's investment in the smart digital hub is hoped to be an important platform linking Thai small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Otop (One Tambon, One Product) items and farm products to China and the global market.

The collaboration with Alibaba also lets the Customs Department improve its efficiency in imported product management, Mr Kulit said.

The department has simplified import entry declaration forms to accommodate international trade and adopted e-inventory to control product volume in cargo.

Alibaba teamed up with the department to adopt artificial intelligence technology to improve customs clearance procedures and apply X-rays and QR code systems, which can reduce the use of customs officials' discretion.

Thai products shipped to China, particularly those items exported by Thai SMEs and startups, will also apply the same platform for the import clearance system, Mr Kulit said.

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