With the opening of the Chinese economy to foreign investments in the past 40 years, China is transforming into a global economic hub. However, with the standardisation of business administration with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), foreign investors need to be cautious of the differences between the global IFRS and the local Chinese GAAP. In this article, these inconsistencies between IFRS and Chinese GAAP are getting analysed, as well as looking into the optimal preparation for this challenge.
To increase the foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Chinese economy, the Public Republic of China (PRC) implemented special economic zones (SEZs) to further develop towards the biggest global economy. Hence, on the business administration level, this inquires for own accounting rules referred to as the Chinese Accounting Standards (CAS) or the Chinese General Accepted Accounting Principles (Chinese GAAP). While the CAS is implemented to reduce financial fraud or to optimize China’s tax strategy, in an international context the function of IFRS is to streamline international accounting regulations and transparency. Meaning, that the IFRS should be applied on top of the CAS so that the company can both adhere to the international and the local rules. Nowadays, while China starts to converge more with the IFRS principles, the Chinese GAAP still differs from the well-known and familiarized IFRS trademarked by foreign investors.
The organ of the Accounting Regulatory Department of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) is responsible for setting the accounting standards in China. As the previous regulations of the CAS were mainly concerned with sorting a balance sheet of the state-owned industry in the socialist era, the regulations in current years are aimed to reflect the financial status, analyse the operating results, and maintain transparency (for the state). The Chinese GAAP has two subordinate accounting policies:
In 2001, the GAAP initialy included the Accounting Standards for Business enterprises (ASBE01), however, the ASBE01 was in 2006 further transformed into the ASBE06. The ASBE06, which currently is still required for all publicly traded enterprises in China, is the main set of accounting measurements. Luckily, the Chinese GAAP (ASBE06), has key similarities with IFRS. For small-sized business cooperations, there is a special set of accounting measurements called the Accounting Standards for Small-Sized Business Enterprises (ASSBE). This standard can be seen as a merger between IFRS and ASBE06 and has the goal to make it easier for small enterprises to follow the tax regulations and accounting standards.
Differences Chinese Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (Chinese GAAP or CAS) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)
Knowing that the CAS and IFRS have similarities, it is evident that the foreign investor should be aware of the regulations that differ within these sets of accounting rules. Hereby the differences between the CAS (GAAP) and IFRS:
- Valuating Fixed Assets
Whereas the IFRS has the choice to utilize the preferred method of valuating fixed assets, the CAS does not endorse this flexibility. In IFRS, one can opt for re-evaluating the assets or use the historical-cost valuation method. In CAS, only the latter is agreed upon to be used when valuating fixed assets.
- Implementation Delays
Whenever IFRS updates/changes are released, these new IFRS rules are not immediately, and in some cases never, adopted in the CAS. In short, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) will review the latest release of the IFRS and see if it can be adopted into the China business framework. For foreign investors, this means that 1) the IFRS updates are delayed, 2) the IFRS might never be applied and thus results in 3) the IFRS regulations can be different than in other countries. This can lead to serious problems in companies with an overarching implementation of IFRS changes (e.g. software) in all of the subsidiary ventures.
- Common Services in China
When handling cases of common service in China, the CAS has a more detailed description of the situation. For example, In the case of merging two companies with similar interests and under the control of one entity. The CAS requires a restatement of the figure while IFRS has no specific rules for this situation.
- Uncommon Services in China
Opposite to the previous point, uncommon situations in China are less detailed than the IFRS counterpart. The Italian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce exemplifies this difference by looking at employee benefit plans. The CAS has no specific rules for staff benefits offered by international firms besides payments in the firm’s stock. In the case of using benefits packages for its subsidiaries, the mother company can get into serious problems and should always have contact with the MoF to address and record such transactions accurately.
- Fiscal Year
The fiscal year of the CAS starts from January 1st, while the start of the fiscal year can be decided by the company when applying IFRS. Regarding IFRS, the year must be 12 consecutive years.
How to successfully do business in China regarding the Chinese Accounting Standards?
To minimalize the potential risk of conflicts with the law, it is recommended for foreign investors to notice the differences between CAS and IFRS and apply both of the accounting standards in the right way. In this process of familiarizing with CAS, the differences should be known, and the contact between the firm and the Ministry of Finance should be optimal to resolve challenges and uncertainties. Moreover, be aware that the CAS can only be filed in the China language, and that short-cuts in the Chinese accounting world often result in serious delays and non-compliance: further complicating the international business. Thus, in the case of maintaining an overview of both CAS and IFRS, even while it is about 90-95% similar, it is recommended to have (specialized) agencies on your side. With experts on the topic, it is evident that the venture is assisted by experience. This way, the short straw will not be drawn when dealing in an unknown and new business environment.
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