1.1 As the world economy slows, and increasing financial volatility and turbulence become the “newest normal,”only a few economies have the resilience to be a refuge of stability and the potential to be an outpost of opportunity. India is one of those few. As oil and commodity prices continue to be soft, and in the wake of actions taken by the government and the Reserve Bank of India, macro-economic stability seems reasonably assured for India. This bedrock of stability coupled with reforms to unleash the entrepreneurial energies of India can create the policy credibility and business environment that India is indeed seizing the historic opportunity afforded by domestic and international developments to propel the economy to a high growth trajectory. Key amongst these reforms is the goods and services tax (GST), which has, in some ways, been “priced”into expectations of the government’s reform program.
1.2 For nearly ten years, India has been on the verge of implementing a GST. But now, with political consensus close to being secured, the nation is on the cusp of executing one of the most ambitious and remarkable tax reforms in its independent history. Implementing a new tax, encompassing both goods and services, to be implemented by the Centre, 29 States and 2 Union Territories, in a large and complex federal system, via a constitutional amendment requiring broad political consensus, affecting potentially 2-2.5 million tax entities, and marshalling the latest technology to use and improve tax implementation capability, is perhaps unprecedented in modern global tax history.
1.3 It is easy to overlook how ambitious the Indian GST will be, and a cross-country comparison highlights the magnitude of ambition. According to the World Bank (2015), over 160 countries have some form of value added tax (VAT), which is what the GST is. But the ambition of the Indian GST experiment is revealed by a comparison with the other large federal systems European Union, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, China and Australia–that have a VAT (the United States does not have a VAT).