- 3D printing files are not currently subject to customs duties.
- Imposing digital duties could slow the adoption of 3DP adoption due to higher trade friction costs.
- VAT or sales tax may be a more practical alternative to customs duties.
Global revenues from 3D printing (3DP) have been rapidly growing by almost 30% a year over the past 30 years, but still they accounted for less than 0.1% of global manufacturing revenues in 2018, as shown in the figure below.
So far, higher unit cost and longer production times than traditionally volume-manufactured goods have led to low 3DP global adoption rates. This has been the case despite the fact that currently no customs duties are applied to 3DP files crossing borders. But what could change if such duties became the norm?
A controversial position from the Guardian. The fiscal treatment of 3D printing is one of the big considerations that Governments ought to start planning for, particularly given the difficulty of taxing international trade of things when those are digitally transmitted to local printers.
The automation revolution will cost jobs and cause massive unrest. Labour are ahead of the curve when they say that those affected must be supported
My son has just been given a new toy car. It’s small, blue and remarkably cute-looking for something that threatens one day to cost a lot of people their jobs. For what’s unusual about this car is that it wasn’t made in a distant Chinese factory before being shipped back to a warehouse here, then trucked to a shop, or dumped on a doorstep by an overworked Amazon driver with no time to ring the doorbell.
This one came straight off a 3D printer, one of those faintly space age-sounding gizmos that works a bit like a normal printer except that you load it with plastic fibres instead of paper, and then programme it to “print” a solid object according to your preferred design.
Technology is turning the world upside down for manufacturing and distribution
In 3D printing, we once again have a new technology that could upend supply chains, business models, customer relationships — entrepreneurship itself. 3D printing could do to physical goods what cloud computing is now doing to digital services; what the PC, internet and smart mobility have done to computing; what outsourcing did to software development and business processing. That is, take mass distribution and innovation to the next level, while realigning the very geography of work and trade.
Why address 3D now?
Any significant technology that emerges has a few things in common. It impacts different industries at different times, places and levels of disruption. It poses both opportunity and risk. And it raises tax, legal and policy implications that can trip up corporate leaders and global policymakers alike as they are in full stride toward the future.
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The growth of 3D printing’s prominence in manufacturing is changing the dynamics of manufacturing, of that there can be no doubt. It therefore is becoming clearer that governments need to either get on board and incentivise this development in their own countries or risk being left behind, losing share in global manufacture. South Korea is recognising this with a focused programme, and the UK is on the cusp of publishing its strategy for 3d printing technologies. Any such strategy, though, needs to be backed up with fiscal assistence and the skillbase developed in schools, colleges and universities – two things that remain the gift of government.
“The 3D printing industry is the core technology that will bring about innovation in the manufacturing realm and create a new market by changing the paradigm of the industry.”
South Korea has revealed it will invest around $37 million in 2017 to accelerate the development of 3D printing across the country.
The nation’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning will spend much of the budget on various 3D printing businesses to strengthen South Korea’s competitiveness and ability to meet demand.
On the ministry’s agenda are sectors ranging from the military to medical industries. Aiming to assist the military and industries to produce components through 3D printing, the ministry will also encourage the production of artificial bones and rehabilitation devices using the technology.
3D printing is poised to upend a lot of manufacturing and supply chain models that are entrenched in many industries, but the impact may be much wider than that. In this recent Harvard Business Review article, the author suggests viewing the potential of 3D printing through an unexpected prism: taxes.
Channing Flynn, an international tax partner at Ernst & Young, as well as the company’s global technology industry tax leader wrote the piece, and brings up a number of good points that could trip up companies adopting 3D printing as well as their respective governments.
Exactly how – and how quickly – 3D printing is adopted will obviously vary by industry and company, but Flynn’s piece outlines some of the competing economic priorities that will affect how widely the technology may be adopted.