E-Commerce in China

E-commerce in China: A Guide for Australian Business

Business Update Sep 2018

What does China’s new e-commerce Law mean for Australian businesses?

  • On 31 August 2018 the National People’s Congress announced the adoption of China’s e-commerce Law (中华人民共和国电子商务法). The Law will enter into force on January 1, 2019.
  • This Law largely relates to the domestic operations of Chinese e-commerce companies and the responsibilities of platform operators and merchants, including individual sellers. The main purpose is to ensure sustainable development and sound regulation of e-commerce business in China, including protecting consumer rights.
  • The Law, which totals 7 chapters and 89 articles, covers topics such as intellectual property (IP) protection, e-commerce promotion, contracts and dispute resolution, packaging and waste management, anti-competitive behaviour, consumer rights and legal liabilities. Details on specific regulations and policies under this Law are yet to be announced.
  • After 1 Jan 2019, all merchants selling online in China, including individuals and companies based in China and abroad will need to register for an online selling certificate to be displayed in their online store. However, further details on this registration process have not yet been published.
  • Income generated by domestic and international sellers may be reported to relevant authorities via platform owners. Setting higher barriers to entry for the establishment of online stores is likely aimed at improving the overall integrity of existing e-commerce platforms.
  • Austrade continues to support Australian merchants, brands and suppliers and Chinese importers, distributors and retailers that are operating legitimately in the e-commerce space in China.

Does the new Law affect existing cross-border e-commerce (CBEC) policies?

  • China’s e-commerce Law applies broadly to the business of selling commodities or providing services through the Internet or other information networks. Specific references in the Law to CBEC are high level, and relate largely to legal and administrative obligations by platform operators. The existing CBEC policies relate to the application of various postal and consumption tax rates as well as individual purchase limits that were announced in the 8 April 2016 ‘Notice on Taxation Policies for CBEC Retail Imports’.
  • The application of specific customs clearance and quarantine requirements to certain products sold via CBEC has been deferred until 31 December 2018 and no specific reference to this moratorium is made in the new e-commerce Law. Rumours of impending changes to the current CBEC regime have not been substantiated; this includes changes to the treatment of cosmetics, skin-care, infant formula or health products. Austrade does not expect any substantial changes to CBEC policies in the lead up to the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in November.
  • While cross-border e-commerce remains an attractive channel to promote, market and sell products to Chinese buyers, Australian exporters are advised to register their products with Chinese authorities where possible, to mitigate the impacts of regulatory changes.

How does CBEC work?

Bonded warehouse mode

Products on two lists of 1,293 HS codes can be imported into one of 15 approved CBEC bonded warehouse zones across China or shipped from an overseas distribution centre linked to Chinese customs authorities. These ‘positive lists’ include packaged foods, UHT milk, infant formula and wine. Goods can be imported in bulk through this channel and packed locally for final delivery.

  • CBEC positive list one (released 8 April 2016): Chinese (Source: Ministry of Finance (official))
  • CBEC positive list two (released 15 April 2016): Chinese (Source: Ministry of Finance (official))

A flat tax of 11.9 per cent is applied to the final online retail price at the time of purchase (calculated as a 30 per cent discount on VAT). A discounted rate of consumption tax also applies to:

  • luxury goods (14 per cent)
  • cosmetics (14 per cent)
  • wine (21 per cent)

Individual consumers are permitted to buy up to RMB2,000 worth of such goods per order, up to a limit of RMB20,000 per year.

Until the end of a grace period on 31 December 2018, products on these lists will generally not be required to comply with China’s product standards and import regulations. Products must be legally sold in Australia.

Postal and courier mode

Products can also be shipped directly from overseas merchants (B2C) and individuals (C2C) to China via the postal and courier system. This includes products not on the bonded warehouse positive lists.

Similar to the bonded warehouse model, these products are generally exempt from the requirement to be pre-registered with Chinese authorities. No announcement has been made by Chinese authorities as to how long this exemption will apply.

Products entering China via this method are subject to the following personal postal tax rates announced on 8 April 2016:

  • Food, beverage, healthcare, toys, furniture: 15 per cent
  • Sporting equipment (except for golf and accessories), fishing equipment, shoes, clothing: 30 per cent
  • Wine, jewelry, golf equipment and accessories, watches and cosmetics: 60 per cent

Advice for exporters

While cross-border e-commerce remains an attractive channel to promote, market and sell products to Chinese buyers, Australian exporters are advised to register their products with Chinese authorities as early as possible before the end of the regulatory grace period on 31 December 2018.

An overview of common regulations is contained on page 40 of the Austrade publication e-Commerce in China: A Guide for Australian Business. This guide can be downloaded by filling in the form below.

Individual consumer products that are compliant with the relevant national safety and quality (guobiao) standards and import quarantine protocols, can be registered online with the China Import and Export Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

While many packaged food products sold in Australia will already be compliant with China’s relevant food standards (and can be registered with minimal cost), these measures are independent of Australia’s domestic system and are not a part of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. Special rules apply to fresh produce, health food, cosmetics and infant formula.

The exact regulatory requirements differ according to each product, and exporters are strongly encouraged to seek professional advice from an import agent, a logistics company, law firm or regulatory affairs advisory.

Further reading

E-commerce in China: A Guide for Australian Business

The E-commerce in China: A Guide for Australian Business offers practical advice, facts and insights on how China’s e-commerce marketplaces work and how to access them.

If you would like to download a copy of the guide, please fill out the form below. This publication is intended for use by Australian businesses and a valid ABN is required to download the guide.

Please complete the below fields before downloading a copy of the guide.

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