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Tax revenues in Asian and Pacific economies rebound

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Tax-to-GDP ratios increased in the majority of Asian and Pacific economies covered by a new OECD report published today. Nine of the economies in the publication increased their tax-to-GDP ratios between 2016 and 2017, compared with only three in the preceding year, according to Revenue Statistics in Asian and Pacific Economies 2019.

This sixth edition of Revenue Statistics in Asian and Pacific Economies covers 17 countries, including Vanuatu for the first time. Tax-to-GDP ratios across these countries varied considerably, ranging from 11.5% in Indonesia to 32.0% in New Zealand. In general, tax-to-GDP ratios were higher in the Pacific economies than in the Asian economies: Pacific economies had tax-to-GDP ratios higher than 24%, with the exceptions of Tokelau (14.2%) and Vanuatu (17.1%), while the Asian economies reported tax-to-GDP ratios below 18%, with the exceptions of Korea (26.9%) and Japan (30.6%, 2016 figure).

The increased revenue collection of most countries in 2017 was largely driven by economic factors rather than changes in tax policy or administration. These factors included higher revenues from oil production in Kazakhstan, the growth of the logging sector in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu’s recovery from Cyclone Pam in 2015. Meanwhile, a fall in revenues from corporate income tax (CIT) and value added tax (VAT) resulting from an economic slowdown explained the decline in Papua New Guinea’s tax-to-GDP ratio. Over a longer timeframe, 11 of the 17 economies in the publication increased their tax-to-GDP ratios between 2007 and 2017, with the exception of Australia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Vanuatu.

This publication also includes data on non-tax revenues for five Pacific economies (the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tokelau and Vanuatu). These revenues, which include mainly grants, resource income (including fishing and mining) and other fees, were equivalent to at least 6% of GDP in the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Vanuatu. Grants exceeded 30% of total non-tax revenues in all five countries and were the main source of non-tax revenues for the Cook Islands (65.7%), Papua New Guinea (59.9%), Samoa (51.1%) and Vanuatu (52.2%).

The report is a joint publication of the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration and the OECD Development Centre with the co-operation of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Pacific Islands Tax Administrators Association (PITAA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) and the financial support of the European Union.

Revenue Statistics in Asian and Pacific Economies 2019 includes a special feature exploring the operations of tax administrations in the region produced in collaboration with the ADB.

Key findings

Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP

In 2017, tax-to-GDP ratios varied across the 17 economies, from 11.5% in Indonesia to 32.0% in New Zealand. Tax-to-GDP ratios in all Asian and Pacific economies in the publication were lower than the OECD average tax-to-GDP ratio of 34.2%.

Eight of the economies had tax-to-GDP ratios above the Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) average of 22.8%.

Five countries (Fiji, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu,) experienced increases larger than 1.0 percentage point between 2016 and 2017 while Malaysia and Papua New Guinea experienced the largest decreases (0.7 percentage points in both cases).

Over the last decade, tax-to-GDP ratios increased in 11 countries in this publication and declined in six. The highest increases were observed in Fiji and the Solomon Islands (4.4 and 4.5 percentage points, respectively) while the largest declines were registered in Kazakhstan and Papua New Guinea (9.7 and 7.0 percentage points, respectively).

Tax structure

In nine economies in this publication, taxes on goods and services accounted for the largest share of tax revenues in 2017. Within goods and services, VAT is an important and increasing source of revenues in most Asian and Pacific economies.

Income taxes provided the main share of tax revenues in the eight remaining countries with the exception of Japan, where social security contributions (40.4% of total tax revenue, 2016 figure) represented the largest source.

The tax structure of Asian economies tends to differ from that of Pacific economies:

VAT accounted for at least 25% of total tax revenue in the Pacific economies with the exception of Australia and Papua New Guinea, but less than 25% in the Asian economies, except Indonesia.

Revenues from CIT were higher than revenues from personal income tax (PIT) in most Asian economies, with the exception of Japan and Korea; whereas the reverse is true in the Pacific, except in Fiji.

Revenues from VAT ranged from 12.9% of total tax revenue in Australia (2016 figure) to 44.4% in the Cook Islands (the Solomon Islands and Tokelau do not impose VAT) and was higher as a share of total taxes in the Pacific compared to Asian economies.

Across all economies with the exception of Tokelau (which does not impose CIT) and Vanuatu (which does not impose income taxes), revenues from CIT ranged from 9.1% of total tax revenue in Samoa to 41.5% in Malaysia.

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COVID-19 crisis highlights widening regional disparities in healthcare and the economy

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The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people and economies has highlighted widening regional disparities in access to healthcare and economic growth and persistent disparities in digitalisation over the past decade, according to a new OECD report.

Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 says that at the onset of the pandemic, some regions were less well prepared to face the health emergency. With 10 beds for every 1000 inhabitants, regions close to metropolitan areas have almost twice as many beds as remote regions. Over the last decades, most regions in OECD countries have seen a significant reduction in the number of hospital beds available per inhabitant, with an average decline of 6% since 2000 and of 22% in remote areas.

The health impact of COVID-19 has been particularly hard in some areas within countries. For example, in some regions of Colombia, Italy and Spain, the number of deaths between February and June 2020 was at least 50% higher than the average over the same period in the 2 previous years.

Morbidity rates that make some places more vulnerable to health crises than others also vary widely. In some regions in Mexico, Chile and the United States, close to 40% or more of the population is obese, posing a higher risk in terms of fatal diseases. For example, due to higher obesity levels, in Mississippi the average likelihood to suffer severe symptoms if infected with COVID-19 is roughly 23% higher than in Colorado.

People living in large cities and capitals were also more able to quickly shift to remote working. Many rural areas still suffer from a lack of access to high-speed broadband, a lower share of jobs amenable to remote working and a less well-educated workforce. One in three households in rural areas does not have access to high-speed broadband, on average. Overall, only 7 out of 26 countries have succeeded in ensuring access to high-speed connection to more than 80% of households in rural regions. And in some regions in Italy, Portugal and Turkey, 25% or more of the population does not use the Internet or does not have a computer.

Some regions were also struggling economically before the crisis. After a period of decline in the early 2000s, gaps in GDP per capita across small regions in the OECD area have increased, reflecting a long-standing process of concentration of population and economic activities in metropolitan areas.

The evolution of regional economic disparities remains very heterogeneous across countries. Contrary to the OECD-wide trend, one-half of OECD countries experienced an increase in the gap between their richest and poorest regions. Trends in regional productivity follow similar patterns. Since 2008, only one-third of OECD countries have experienced an increase in productivity in all regions.

With more than 100 indicators, Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 combines official statistics with new, modelled indicators based on less conventional data sources, analysing trends in health, well-being, economic growth, employment and the environment, as well as regions and cities’ preparedness to face global crises and adapt to megatrends.

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Cash flow the biggest problem facing business during COVID-19 crisis

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A new report  on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  on businesses shows that their greatest challenges have been insufficient cash flow to maintain staff and operations, supplier disruptions and access to raw materials.

With businesses already undergoing significant competitive pressure prior to the crisis, government restrictions, health challenges and the economic fall-out brought by COVID-19 further set back many enterprises.

Interrupted cash flow was the greatest problem, the survey found. More than 85 per cent reported the pandemic had a high or medium financial impact on their operations. Only a third said they had sufficient funding for recovery. Micro and small enterprises (those with 99 employees or fewer) were worst affected.

The survey, carried out by Employers and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs), involved more than 4,500 enterprises in 45 countries worldwide. EBMOs gathered data from their enterprise members between March and June 2020. The businesses were asked about operational continuity, financial health, and their workforce.

At that time, 78 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had changed their operations to protect them from COVID-19, but three-quarters were able to continue operating in some form despite measures arising from government restrictions. Eighty-five per cent had already implemented measures to protect staff from the virus.

Nearly 80 per cent said they planned to retain their staff – larger companies were more likely to say this. However, around a quarter reported that they anticipated losing more than 40 per cent of their staff.

Looking into the future, preparing for unforeseen circumstances and mitigating risks associated with a disruption of business operations is needed. Fewer than half the enterprises surveyed had a business continuity plan (BCP) when the pandemic hit, with micro and small businesses the least likely to have made such preparations. Additionally, only 26 per cent of the enterprises who responded said they were fully insured and 54 per cent had no coverage at all. Medium-sized enterprises, (those with 100 to 250 employees), were most likely to have full or partial coverage.

Strengthening government support measures for enterprises are also vital for their recovery. Four out of ten enterprises said they had no funding to support business recovery while two-thirds said funding was insufficient. Of the sectors analysed, the tourism and hospitality sector, followed by retail and sales, were most likely to report funding issues.

The report production was facilitated by EBMOs who collected and shared the survey data with the Bureau for Employers’ Activities  (ACT/EMP) at the International Labour Organization. ACT/EMP is a specialized unit within the ILO Secretariat that maintains close and direct relations with employers’ constituents.

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Lithuania: COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need for reforms to drive growth and reduce inequality

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Effective containment measures, a well-functioning health system and swift public support to firms and households have helped Lithuania to weather the COVID-19 crisis to date. That said, the pandemic still carries significant economic risks, and the recent upsurge in infections is very concerning. Once a recovery is under way, Lithuania should aim to reform public companies, strengthen public finances, and ensure that growth benefits all people and regions, according to a new OECD report. 

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Lithuania says that prior to COVID-19, good economic management and an investment-friendly business climate were helping to lift average Lithuanian incomes closer to advanced country levels. While the recession provoked by the virus has been milder than elsewhere – with GDP projected to drop by 2% in 2020 before rebounding by 2.7% in 2021 – Lithuania’s small and open economy will be vulnerable to any prolonged disruption to world trade. Increasing public investment and improving governance at state-owned enterprises could help lift growth and productivity. Other reforms should focus on improving the effectiveness of spending and taxation. Over the longer term, Lithuania should establish a clear debt reduction path and a long-term debt target.

“Lithuania’s sound economic management of recent years, and its swift response to both the health and economic aspects of the pandemic, are helping the country to weather the COVID-19 crisis,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is now key to build on these achievements and restart the reform engine to ensure robust, sustainable and inclusive growth for the future.”

The pandemic has exposed high levels of income inequality in Lithuania, where relative poverty is high among the unemployed, the less educated, single parents and older people due to a tax-benefit system that is insufficiently redistributive. The Survey recommends Lithuania to continue providing temporary support to people and businesses hit by COVID-19, as well as to increase regular social support while retaining incentives to work.

In terms of support to the economy, the Survey notes that while Lithuania’s government spending has increased considerably over the past two years, it remains below the OECD average. Public investment also remains low. Given the importance of modernising infrastructure and stimulating crisis-hit demand, the Survey recommends maintaining or increasing current levels of investment and improving investment quality by carrying out rigorous cost-benefit analysis for individual projects. Increasing investment in rural areas, and giving local government more say in tax policy and spending, could help reduce regional disparities and promote inclusive growth.

The Survey also recommends phasing out environmentally damaging fossil fuel subsidies and increasing environmental taxation, which would benefit public finances while helping the shift to a lower-carbon economy.

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