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Shopping: just a click and a controversy away

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The region has in recent years acquired the habit of shopping in the United States, and not just on Black Friday, by ordering from American stores via the web.

Growth in e-commerce has been impressive. In El Salvador, Aerocasillas - a leading courier service in the region for the delivery of goods bought in the United States - estimates that the volume of e-purchases will increase by 35 per cent this year, compared to 2010.

In 2007, Visa reckoned that e-commerce in Central America amounted to $449 million, and the number has almost certainly gone up. A report published last year by AméricaEconomía Intelligence says that e-commerce in the whole of Latin America was worth $22 billion in 2009, more than ten times the level of only six years earlier.

At the same time, the habit of shopping digitally in the United States is becoming controversial.

Costa Ricans recently started importing goods from the United States, without paying taxes, on the theory that each citizen is allowed $1000 of duty-free purchases a year.

In this case, it doesn’t matter if he or she brings the products personally after a visit abroad, or gets a courier to deliver them.

The result is that Costa Rica now has no fewer than 80 delivery companies, which compete with traditional retailers.

Tax-free e-commerce also cuts into the revenues of the Costa Rican government, which last week declared that products imported in this way would no longer be exempt from the payment of duties and taxes.

Given the volume of business involved, the courier companies are almost certain to challenge the legality of the decision.

E-commerce will no doubt continue to grow, even if they fail.

If they succeed, growth could be explosive.