Mobile phone operators yesterday sought duty benefits for the import of 4G-enabled handsets, which would help in reducing cost of such devices and widening access to fast internet.
To cut costs, they also demanded withdrawal of value added tax and supplementary duty and surcharge on internet usage, which now stand at 21.75 percent.
The Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (Amtob) came up with the pleas at the National Board of Revenue (NBR) in the capital while presenting proposals for the upcoming budget for 2018-19.
At present, mobile handset importers pay a total of 31.75 percent of the price as duty.
The demand of Amtob, representing Grameenphone, Robi, Banglalink, Citycell, Teletalk and associate members Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, comes nearly two months past the launch of 4G services by the top three operators.
Despite the launch, nearly 10 percent of around 10 crore of the active cellphone users have 4G-enabled devices while 35 percent have 3G handsets, according to Amtob.
Mobile phone operators said high duty acts as a deterrent to the fast expansion of the usage of 4G-enabled phones.
“We urge for giving import benefit for two-three years,” said Shahed Alam, head of regulatory affairs of Robi Axiata Ltd, the second largest mobile phone operator after Grameenphone.
Amtob Secretary General TIM Nurul Kabir said the majority of the devices being used in the country were basic phones. “Now if we want to reach the bottom of the pyramid, we have to address their affordability,” he said. Amtob also demanded rationalisation of corporate tax for mobile phone operators. It is now 40 percent for operators listed at the stock exchange and 45 percent for non-listed ones.
The trade body also urged the revenue administrator for publication of a guideline on e-commerce and elimination of a provision for which firms have to pay a minimum 0.75 percent of their total annual turnover as tax.
In response, NBR Chairman Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said his office would examine ways to provide benefits to the mobile phone operators. “But please clear all arrear taxes.”
Negative reports are published in the newspapers, as the operators do not clear due VAT and tax properly, he said.
Bhuiyan suggested the operators settle tax disputes through alternative dispute resolution, an out of court process.
Earlier, Bangladesh Beverage Manufacturers Association demanded reduction of supplementary duty on local production of soft drinks to 15 percent from the present 25 percent.
Bangladesh Ceramic Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BCMEA) urged keeping import duty on raw materials of ceramic at 3-5 percent.
The association, representing over 60 ceramics makers, said duty benefits and protection helped the sector grow and reduce import dependence.
“We can meet 80 percent of domestic requirement,” said BCMEA President Md Shirajul Islam Mollah, demanding withdrawal of a 15 percent supplementary duty at the production stage and putting effort into stopping under-invoicing.
Sk Bashir Uddin, managing director of Akij Group, opined that high duty at manufacturing creates the tendency among people to go for tax evasion.