Ms. Janet Gale Stotsky and Ms. Asegedech WoldeMariam
Central American tax systems are modern in their orientation, though there remains scope for beneficial reform. Value-added taxes are the mainstay of collections, but their performance varies. Income and property taxes remain relatively underused and should apply to higher income taxpayers more comprehensively. Tax reform needs to be mindful of global competition. Continuing improvement in administrative performance is also essential.
From the mid-1980s to early 1990s, Latin American tax policy provided rich lessons for other reforming countries. Meaningful innovations led also to perceptible revenue gains. Later in the 1990s, tax policies began to drift. Shining examples of fundamental reform seemed to lose their luster. Revenue in terms of GDP also stagnated, partly reflecting over-reliance on consumption taxes and neglect of taxable capacity on incomes. The stagnation has been exacerbated by excessively simplified administrative practices. Based on these developments and on the limited taxability of internationally mobile capital, the paper anticipates a likely tax structure for the new century.
This paper reviews recent experience of technical assistance on tax policy provided by the Fiscal Affairs Department to a selected but diversified group of countries that differ both in their geographical locations and in the nature of their economies. The review finds in the technical assistance advice both common themes applicable to all countries and special elements designed to address issues unique to a specific country, or a subset of countries. It also attempts to assess, to the extent possible, the policy impacts of such advice.
Tax reform in Latin America during the 1980s emphasized broad-based, low-rate consumption taxes over steeply progressive income and property taxes, primarily to simplify the tax structure and facilitate tax administration. While tax reform need not necessarily raise tax-to-GDP ratios, countries that undertook tax reform experienced a higher revenue gain in terms of GDP relative to those that did not. Tax reform issues during the 1990s will include a minimum income tax, alternative corporate taxes (cash flow tax, assets tax), capturing difficult tax bases (financial intermediation, property), environment taxes, extending withholding as a taxing mechanism, and tax harmonization.