GST and International Trade


In today’s globalized economy, international trade plays a vital role, and understanding the implications of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on export-import transactions is crucial for businesses engaged in cross-border trade. GST, being a comprehensive indirect tax, has significantly impacted the landscape of international trade. This blog aims to shed light on the implications of GST for export-import activities and provide insights into the key considerations and challenges faced by businesses involved in international trade.

  1. GST on Exports:
  • Zero-rated Supplies: Under GST, exports are generally treated as zero-rated supplies, meaning no tax is levied on the exported goods or services. This provision aims to promote exports and make them globally competitive.
  • Export Documentation: Businesses need to comply with specific documentation requirements, such as filing shipping bills, submitting export invoices, and obtaining necessary certifications or endorsements to claim zero-rated benefits.
  1. Input Tax Credit (ITC) on Imports:
  • Basic Customs Duty (BCD): GST does not subsume Basic Customs Duty, which is levied on imports. BCD is calculated on the value of imported goods and is not eligible for ITC. Businesses should factor in BCD costs when planning import-related expenses.
  • Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST): Imported goods are subject to IGST, which can be claimed as ITC by businesses. IGST is levied on the value of imported goods plus customs duty and any other charges.
  • Compliance and Documentation: Importers need to maintain proper records, including invoices, bills of entry, and customs documents, to avail themselves of ITC on imported goods.
  1. Export-Import of Services:
  • Place of Supply Rules: GST has specific rules to determine the place of supply for services in cross-border transactions. The place of supply determines the applicability of GST and whether it falls under the category of zero-rated supplies.
  • Reverse Charge Mechanism (RCM): In certain cases, the import of services triggers the RCM, where the recipient of services is liable to pay GST. Businesses need to understand RCM provisions and fulfill their compliance obligations.
  1. Export-Import Documentation and Procedures:
  • Export Invoicing: Businesses engaged in export-import activities must understand the necessary information and compliance requirements for export invoices, including specific details like HSN/SAC codes, shipping details, and other mandatory disclosures.
  • Customs Compliance: Importers and exporters need to comply with customs regulations, including filing shipping bills, Bills of Entry, and adhering to customs valuation rules.
  • Compliance Challenges: Complex procedures, varying GST rates across countries, and ensuring accurate documentation can pose challenges for businesses involved in international trade. Ensuring proper understanding and adherence to these procedures is crucial to avoid penalties and delays.

Challenges and opportunities of GST in export-import businesses


  1. Complex compliance: GST introduces a complex tax regime with multiple tax rates and compliance procedures, which can be challenging for export-import businesses to navigate. Ensuring accurate classification, documentation, and timely filing of GST returns can pose difficulties.
  2. Export documentation: Exporters need to comply with specific documentation requirements under GST, such as filing shipping bills, providing valid GSTINs (Goods and Services Tax Identification Numbers) of buyers, and submitting relevant export invoices. Any discrepancies in documentation can lead to delays or penalties.
  3. Working capital blockage: Exporters often face challenges due to the blockage of working capital in the form of GST refunds. Delays in receiving GST refunds can strain the financial liquidity of export-import businesses, affecting their cash flow and competitiveness.
  4. Interpretation and consistency: GST laws and regulations may be subject to interpretation, leading to varying practices and inconsistent implementation across different states or countries. This inconsistency can create uncertainties and additional compliance burdens for export-import businesses.


  1. Simplified tax structure: GST aims to simplify the tax structure by replacing multiple indirect taxes, resulting in a unified tax regime. This simplification can streamline the export-import process, reducing complexities and enhancing the ease of doing business.
  2. Input tax credit benefits: Under GST, export-import businesses can claim the input tax credit on taxes paid for inputs and services used in the manufacturing or distribution of goods. This enables businesses to reduce their tax liability and improve cost competitiveness.
  3. Digitalization and automation: GST implementation encourages the digitalization and automation of business processes, including tax filings and documentation. Export-import businesses can leverage technology to streamline operations, improve efficiency, and ensure compliance with GST requirements.
  4. Increased competitiveness: A harmonized tax structure and simplified compliance procedures can enhance the competitiveness of export-import businesses. GST promotes a level playing field, reducing the cascading effect of taxes and eliminating inter-state barriers, which can lead to increased export opportunities.
  5. Transparency and ease of trade: GST implementation aims to bring transparency in taxation and reduce corruption. This transparency and ease of trade can boost investor confidence, attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and create a conducive environment for export-import businesses.
  6. Integration with global standards: Aligning with international tax practices and standards, GST implementation facilitates the integration of Indian export-import businesses with global supply chains. This integration can open up new markets, expand opportunities, and foster international trade partnerships.
  7. Export incentives and schemes: GST provides export incentives such as zero-rated supplies and various export promotion schemes like the Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) scheme. These incentives can provide a competitive edge to export-import businesses and encourage export-oriented growth.

It’s important to note that the specific challenges and opportunities of GST in export-import businesses may vary based on the country’s GST framework and the unique characteristics of the business operations.

Harmonization of GST and customs duties in international trade

The harmonization of GST (Goods and Services Tax) and customs duties in international trade refers to the alignment and coordination of these two tax systems to facilitate smooth cross-border transactions. Here are some key points regarding this topic:

  1. Elimination of double taxation: Harmonization aims to avoid the scenario where goods are subject to both GST and customs duties, leading to double taxation. By aligning the tax bases and ensuring proper coordination, the objective is to eliminate or minimize such instances.
  2. Consistency in tax treatment: Harmonization seeks to establish consistency in the tax treatment of goods and services throughout the supply chain, regardless of whether they are domestically produced or imported. This helps create a level playing field for businesses engaged in international trade.
  3. Simplified procedures: Harmonization endeavors to simplify the administrative procedures and documentation requirements related to GST and customs duties. This simplification can reduce compliance burdens, enhance efficiency, and expedite the movement of goods across borders.
  4. Common definitions and classifications: Harmonization involves adopting common definitions and classifications for goods and services, ensuring uniformity in the interpretation and application of GST and customs duties. This facilitates clearer guidelines for businesses and customs authorities alike.
  5. Mutual cooperation and information exchange: Harmonization encourages mutual cooperation and information exchange between tax authorities and customs departments. This cooperation aims to enhance data sharing, risk assessment, and enforcement activities, leading to better compliance and reduced tax evasion.
  6. Alignment with international standards: Harmonization efforts also strive to align GST and customs duties with international standards and best practices. This alignment helps countries integrate seamlessly into the global trade ecosystem and promotes trade facilitation.
  7. Trade facilitation and competitiveness: The harmonization of GST and customs duties contributes to trade facilitation by reducing delays, costs, and complexities in international trade transactions. This, in turn, enhances the competitiveness of businesses engaged in cross-border trade.
  8. Collaboration with international organizations: Many countries collaborate with international organizations, such as the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), to promote the harmonization of GST and customs duties. These organizations provide frameworks, guidelines, and platforms for countries to work together toward achieving harmonization objectives.

It’s worth noting that achieving full harmonization of GST and customs duties in international trade can be a complex and ongoing process, as it involves coordination between different countries with their unique tax systems and policies. However, progress in harmonization can greatly facilitate international trade by reducing barriers and creating a more predictable and transparent environment for businesses.

GST refunds and drawbacks for Exporters

GST refunds and drawbacks are important aspects for exporters. Here’s a breakdown of GST refunds and drawbacks for exporters:

GST Refunds:

  1. Input Tax Credit (ITC) refund: Exporters are eligible to claim a refund of the GST paid on inputs used in the manufacturing or export process. This includes GST paid on raw materials, input services, and capital goods. The ITC refund mechanism prevents the cascading effect of taxes and helps exporters reduce their overall tax liability.
  2. Zero-rated supplies: The export of goods or services is considered a zero-rated supply under GST. Exporters can claim a refund of the GST paid on the inputs used in the production of such supplies. This ensures that exports are not subject to GST, making them internationally competitive.
  3. Bond/LUT refund: To avoid payment of GST on export shipments, exporters can furnish a Letter of Undertaking (LUT) or a bond with the authorities. This eliminates the need for upfront payment of taxes and allows for a seamless export process. Exporters can claim a refund of any GST paid in error due to technical or procedural reasons.
  4. Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) refund: IGST is levied on the inter-state supply of goods and services. Exporters can claim a refund of the IGST paid on exports. This refund is typically processed after the export goods are physically verified and the shipping bill is filed.


  1. Time-consuming refund process: The refund process for exporters can be time-consuming. Exporters need to provide accurate and detailed documentation to support their refund claims. Delays in processing refunds can lead to working capital blockages and affect cash flow.
  2. Compliance requirements: Exporters need to comply with various requirements, such as filing shipping bills, providing valid GSTINs of buyers, and submitting export invoices, to claim refunds. Non-compliance or errors in documentation can result in delays or rejection of refund claims.
  3. Scrutiny and verification: Refund claims by exporters are subject to scrutiny and verification by tax authorities. The authorities may examine the supporting documents and conduct physical verification of export goods. This scrutiny ensures that the refunds are legitimate, but it can cause delays in the refund process.
  4. Complex refund rules: GST refund rules can be complex and subject to interpretation. Exporters need to have a clear understanding of the rules and comply with the specific refund procedures applicable to their export transactions. Any errors or non-compliance can lead to the rejection of refund claims.
  5. Refund delays and liquidity issues: Exporters may face delays in receiving GST refunds, leading to liquidity issues. The delay in refunds can impact the working capital of exporters, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and affect their ability to operate and expand.

It’s important for exporters to stay updated with the latest GST refund provisions, maintain accurate records, and ensure compliance with the refund procedures to maximize their refund benefits and minimize drawbacks.

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