Tax Structure and the Incidence on the Poor in Developing Countries
CREDIT Research Paper No. 03/18
48 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2004
Date Written: October 2003
The past two decades have witnessed widespread attempts to reform tax structures in developing countries. As the relatively small formal sector limits the base for taxes on income, the major reform is to replace trade taxes with sales taxes. To the extent that this has involved rationalisation of taxes, reducing the level and range of tax rates, and a shift away from taxes on international trade, the reforms are likely to have improved economic and collection efficiency. However, little attention has focussed on the likely effects on distribution and the poor. This paper reviews available evidence on the effects of various taxes on distribution and the poor to address this neglected aspect of reform. Taxes on exports and goods consumed especially by the poor (e.g. kerosene) are the most consistently found to be regressive, whereas taxes on 'luxury' items such as cars, beverages and alcohol are the most likely to be progressive. The available evidence suggests that sales taxes are slightly more progressive. The available evidence suggests that sales taxes are slightly more progressive, or less regressive, than taxes on imports. Consequently, it seems likely that the reforms will not have worsened the effects of the tax structure on distribution and the poor.
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