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African economies sustain progress in domestic resource mobilisation

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Africa has sustained gains in domestic resource mobilisation made since 2000, as tax revenues remained stable in 2016, according to Revenue Statistics in Africa 2018. Providing internationally comparable data for 21 participating countries, the report finds that the average tax-to-GDP ratio was 18.2% in 2016, the same level as in 2015, which represents a strong improvement from 13.1% in 2000.

The third edition of Revenue Statistics in Africa, released today in Paris during the 18th International Economic Forum on Africa, shows that tax-to-GDP ratios varied widely across African countries, ranging from 7.6% in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to 29.4% in Tunisia in 2016. Six countries -Mauritius, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia- had tax-to-GDP ratios greater than or equal to 20% in 2016. In comparison, the average tax-to-GDP ratio for Latin America and the Caribbean was 22.7% and 34.3% for OECD countries in 2016.

Revenue Statistics in Africa is a joint initiative between the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its Development Centre, with the support of the European Union.

The publication, which now covers 21 countries, shows that revenue trends are mixed. Between 2015 and 2016, the tax-to-GDP ratios of 11 countries increased while those of 10 countries in the sample decreased. Botswana registered the highest increase (1.3 percentage points) followed by Mali (1.2 percentage points). The largest decreases (of over 2.0 percentage points) occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger. The changes in tax-to-GDP ratios were primarily due to economic factors. Declines in oil prices coupled with lower activity among mining and oil companies contributed to the decreases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger, while a significant increase in the sale of diamonds in Botswana has increased revenues. In contrast, the increased tax-to-GDP ratio in Mali is partly explained by improvements to tax administration.

African economies continue to rely heavily on taxes on goods and services, which accounted for 54.6% of total tax revenues in the Africa (21) average. Value-added taxes (VAT) alone accounted for 29.3% of revenues. However, the contribution of income taxes is increasing: taxes on income and profits accounted for 34.3% of total revenues across the Africa (21) in 2016 and have contributed the most to growth in tax revenues since 2000, increasing by 2.6% of GDP to reach 6.2% of GDP in 2016. Corporate income tax revenue increased by 1.4 percentage points over this period to 2.8% of GDP, while revenue from personal income tax rose from 2.1% to 3.0% of GDP in 2016, a historic high.

The report also contains data on non-tax revenues, which continued to decline across the 21 countries on average in 2016 but remain an important source of income in certain countries. These revenues, which include income from natural resources and grants, exceeded 5% of GDP in nine of the 21 countries.

Revenue Statistics in Africa is an important part of the African Union’s Strategy for the Harmonization of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA) and is aligned with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and SDG 17.1. This edition contains a special chapter on SHaSA, identifying its approach to establishing an efficient statistical system that covers the political, economic, social, environmental and cultural development and integration of Africa, as well as the role of Revenue Statistics in Africa in this strategy.

KEY FINDINGS

Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP

  • The Africa (21) average tax-to-GDP ratio was 18.2% in 2016, which is 5.0 percentage points higher than in 2000 but unchanged from 2015.
  • In 2016, tax-to-GDP ratios ranged from 7.6% in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to 29.4% in Tunisia. Six countries (Mauritius, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia) had tax-to-GDP ratios greater than or equal to 20% in 2016.
  • The change in the tax-to-GDP ratio since 2000 is comparable with the increase in the LAC region (4.7 percentage points) and significantly stronger than growth amongst OECD countries over the same period (0.4 percentage points).
  • Between 2015 and 2016, the tax-to-GDP ratios of 11 countries increased while those of 10 countries in the sample decreased. This contrasts with 2015, when the Africa (21) tax-to-GDP ratio increased by 0.5 percentage points from the previous year on average and in 15 of the 21 countries.

Tax structure

  • VAT revenue as a percentage of GDP in the Africa (21) increased by 2.0 percentage points from 2000, to 5.3% in 2016. VAT revenue accounted for the highest share of tax revenues in 2016 at 29.3%, an increase of 4.9 percentage points from 2000. The share of taxes on trade has fallen from 17.9% of total tax revenue to 11.6% over the same period.
  • Revenue from income taxes contributed the most to growth in the average tax-to-GDP ratio of the Africa (21) between 2000 and 2016, increasing by 2.6% of GDP over this period to reach 6.2% of GDP in 2016. On average across the Africa (21), corporate income tax revenue increased by 1.4 percentage points – from 1.4% to 2.8% of GDP – between 2000 and 2016.
  • The Africa (21) average tax structure is similar to that of LAC countries, although social security contributions in LAC are, on average, considerably higher. The Africa (21) average share of personal income tax (PIT) revenues to total tax revenue was 15.8% in 2016, lower than the OECD average (24.4%) but higher than the LAC average (9.7%).
  • Non-tax revenues were equivalent to at least 5% of GDP in nine of the 21 countries in 2016. Of the 21 countries, all but four had lower non-tax revenues as a proportion of GDP in 2016 than in 2015.

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Iceland’s slowdown underlines the need to fix structural issues

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Sound macroeconomic policies and favourable external conditions have enabled Iceland’s economy to emerge stronger from a decade of post-crisis management. Yet the impact on growth from a drop in tourist arrivals and seafood exports underlines the need for reforms to open up and diversify the economy and improve its resiliency to sectoral shocks, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Iceland.

The Survey, presented in Reykjavik by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría alongside Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and Minister of Education, Science and Culture Lilja Dogg Alfredsdottir, takes stock of Iceland’s progress on improving fiscal and monetary policy, reducing debt and building up financial buffers. Today Iceland enjoys sustainable public finances, high employment and one of the lowest levels of income inequality of OECD countries.

A lack of structural reform has left Iceland heavily dependent on volatile sectors however. Tourism ballooned over the past decade, overtaking aluminium and fishing to account for 40% of export income and 10% of GDP, but has stalled since the insolvency of a low-cost Icelandic airline. Seafood exports are also down. After several years above 3%, the OECD projects Iceland’s GDP growth will drop to 0.2% in 2019 before rebounding to 2.2% in 2020.

“Iceland’s resurgence since the financial crisis to reach some of the highest living standards of OECD countries has been remarkable. It is a beautiful example of how a robust economy can co-exist with an egalitarian society,” said Mr Gurría. “However this slowdown shows that now is the time to go structural and to further open up the economy. Iceland should focus on reducing regulatory red tape and restrictions on foreign investment.”

Among Iceland’s structural challenges, competitiveness is declining as wages rise faster than productivity. The competitive edge gained after the 2008 crisis has vanished. Foreign direct investment is low, due in part to a high regulatory burden.

The Survey recommends reducing over-regulation, especially in services and for foreign investment, where restrictions are among the highest in the OECD, and lightening the administrative burden for start-ups. Iceland is already working with the OECD to improve its competition policy. Wage settlements across the economy should be in line with productivity growth, and fiscal prudence should be exercised through the current slowdown in order to further reduce the public debt.

In the tourism sector, the Survey suggests considering measures to improve sustainability given that – whether the downturn proves to be temporary or longer lasting – Iceland is already at six foreign tourists a year for each resident and may already have reached a point where the negative social and environmental impacts exceed the economic benefits.

On public finances, the Survey notes that the contribution of public spending to growth has declined since the 2008 crisis. It recommends extending spending reviews to core policy areas like education and health care, and applying more rigorous cost-benefit analysis to spending plans as two ways to improve the effectiveness of public investment.

The Survey also discusses the need to address a decline in high-school student performance and better match adult skills to the labour market. Iceland has a highly equitable education system and a large share of its workforce educated to tertiary level, but it could increase vocational training and make the education system more responsive to the labour market to avoid having people overqualified or possessing the wrong skills for jobs.

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Agricultural Innovation & Technology Hold Key to Poverty Reduction in Developing Countries

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Developing countries need to dramatically increase agricultural innovation and the use of technology by farmers, to eliminate poverty, meet the rising demand for food, and cope with the adverse effects of climate change, says a new World Bank report released today.

The relative stagnation in agricultural productivity in recent decades, particularly in South Asia and Africa where the vast majority of the poor live, underscores the need for new ideas to improve rural livelihoods. Renewed investment to increase new knowledge and ensure its adoption can help harness the large potential gains to be made in agricultural productivity and, hence, income, says the Harvesting Prosperity: Technology and Productivity Growth in Agriculture report.

It notes that nearly 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas, with most relying on farming for their livelihood. Poverty reduction efforts, thus, need an intensive focus on raising agricultural productivity, which has the largest impact of any sector on poverty reduction, roughly twice that of manufacturing.

“Boosting productivity in the agriculture sector can lead to more and better jobs while enabling more people to move off-farm to cities to pursue other opportunities. This requires comprehensive reform of domestic agricultural innovation systems, more effective public spending and the cultivation of inclusive agricultural value chains with an increased role for the private sector,” said World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu. “New technologies are improving access to and costs of information, finance and insurance in all sectors, including agriculture. This can help raise the productivity of low skilled farmers, but only with the right incentives and capabilities to develop and scale these technologies,” she added.

The report examines the drivers and constraints to agricultural productivity and provides pragmatic policy advice. It notes that while in East Asia, crop yields have increased six-fold in the past four decades, contributing to the dramatic reduction in poverty in China and other East Asian countries, it has only doubled in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, with corresponding disappointing reductions in poverty.    

In addition, climate change, together with a deteriorating natural resource base, will hit agriculture hard, impacting the poor and vulnerable, precisely in Africa and South Asia.

The key driver for increasing agricultural productivity and rising incomes is the adoption of innovative technologies and practices by farmers. This will enable farmers to raise yields, manage inputs more efficiently, adopt new crops and production systems, improve the quality of their products, conserve natural resources, and adapt to climate challenges.  

However, the world is facing a widening research and development (R&D) spending gap, even as government funding for agriculture is reaching new heights. In developed countries, investment in agricultural R&D was equivalent to 3.25 percent of agricultural GDP in 2011, compared with 0.52 percent in developing counties. Among the latter group, Brazil and China invested relatively high amounts into agricultural R&D, while Africa and South Asia had the lowest spending relative to agricultural GDP. In fact, in half of African countries, R&D spending is actually declining.

Governments need to consider both public and private research and technology transfer in strengthening their overall innovation system. Repurposing the current public support for agriculture offers a significant opportunity to revitalize public agricultural research systems, invest in agricultural higher education, and create the enabling conditions to leverage private sector R&D. The private sector, in turn, can stimulate more rapid access to new technologies for farmers. In developed countries, private companies contribute about half the total R&D spending targeting the needs of farmers, and as much as one-quarter in large emerging economies, such as China, India, and Brazil. Policy tools to encourage more private R&D in agriculture include reducing restrictions on market participation, encouraging competition, removing onerous regulations, and strengthening intellectual property rights.

“Agriculture in Africa and South Asia faces an innovation paradox. While the economic returns to and growth effects of R&D and knowledge diffusion are documented to be very high, research spending is decreasing in critical areas of the world and local universities and think tanks are not keeping up. Policy makers in developing countries need to give careful attention to reversing these trends and improving the broader enabling environment to encourage private sector contribution as well,” said World Bank Chief Economist for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, William Maloney, who is the lead author of the report.

While new communication technologies make improving access to information, finance and insurance more feasible than before, small farmers face major barriers to adopting the new technologies that such research efforts yield.  

“Poor information about new technologies, absence of insurance and capital markets, high market transaction costs, land tenure insecurities and lack of transportation infrastructure are inhibiting adoption and diffusion of new technologies among farmers. Together with increased R&D spending, sustained efforts are needed to remove these barriers,” said World Bank Global Director for Agriculture and Food, Martien Van Nieuwkoop.

Harvesting Prosperity: Technology and Productivity in Agriculture is the fourth volume in the World Bank’s Productivity Project series, which examines the ‘productivity paradox’ of a persistent slowdown in productivity growth despite technological advancements. To access Harvesting Prosperity: Technology and Productivity in Agriculture report and related products:

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Digital Technologies Can Facilitate Access to Trade Finance in Asia-Pacific Region

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Financial technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, can enhance the efficiency and availability of trade finance, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Asia and Pacific region, according to a report launched today by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

The Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Report 2019, highlights the need to address the largely unmet demand for trade finance globally, estimated at $1.5 trillion, of which 40% is from the region. SMEs are the most affected as they tend to have higher rejection rates for trade finance applications, compared with larger firms. SMEs account for 45% of rejected trade finance transactions as their applications tend to incur relatively high costs for banks to comply with anti-money laundering and know-your-customer requirements. Low credit ratings of counterparty banks and companies are other barriers restricting access to trade finance.

“There is an enormous untapped potential in the rapidly evolving digital technologies. Emerging new technologies can help address long-standing issues of high transaction and processing costs, while mitigating the huge trade finance gap,” ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Mr. Bambang Susantono said at the report launch during the Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum in New Delhi.

Technologies can help cut costs, eliminate manual documentation, and enable accumulated digital information on SME profiles for lenders to assess risks. E-commerce platforms and cloud-based invoicing can allow direct transactions between buyers and sellers, and blockchain technology and artificial intelligence can facilitate due diligence and payments for SMEs. These technologies offer solutions to improve efficiencies at various stages of international trade.

The report notes the digitalization process is far from complete. Challenges include the high cost of adopting some new technologies and the lack of international rules and standards covering digital trade. Fragmented digital technologies also make it difficult for all parties to be compatible and interoperable. Blockchain technology is not free of risks related to incorrect information input, cyber security, and operations.

The report supports three initiatives that can enable widespread technology adoption: Digital Standards for Trade initiative to develop trade ecosystem standards; Global Legal Entity Identifier system to issue unique identifiers for both large and small firms at low cost and help enhance transparency; and model laws on electronic transferable records, electronic commerce, and e-signatures under a UN system to help countries implement legislation in a concerted fashion towards digital trade.

It also calls for governments to collaborate with private sector and other partners to expand technology adoption to enable cross-border trade financing. It highlights the importance of reducing the knowledge gap by improving awareness of trade finance products as well as building more databases to help SMEs tap trade finance.

The report features the findings of a global survey by ESCAP on digital and sustainable trade facilitation that tracks the implementation progress on various trade facilitation measures related to the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and ESCAP’s UN treaty on enabling paperless trade in Asia and the Pacific. Very few countries have customized trade facilitation measures to support SMEs and women, with implementation rates of 36% and 23%, respectively.

“Cross-border trade digitalization will help all firms in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly SMEs, which are the most vulnerable to trade uncertainty. It could cut trade costs by 16%, but this will be difficult to achieve without closer regional cooperation,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

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