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Tax Rates and Tax Evasion: Evidence from "Missing Imports" in China

  • Raymond Fisman
  • Shang-Jin Wei

Tax evasion, by its very nature, is difficult to observe. In this paper, we present a case study of tax evasion in China. The novel feature of our approach is that at a very disaggregated level of individual products, we can measure evasion relatively precisely, by comparing the values that China reports as imports from Hong Kong, with what Hong Kong reports as exports to China. We can match up this evasion gap' with the tariff (and VAT tax) schedule at the product level. The result is striking: using the data in 1998, we find that on average, a 1 percent increase in the tax rate results in a 3 percent increase in evasion; these results hold using data from 1998. The result is similar when a first-difference specification is used with data in 1997 and 1998. This relationship is nonlinear: the evasion elasticity is larger at high tax levels. Furthermore, the evasion gap is negatively correlated with the tax rates on closely related products, suggesting that part of the evasion takes place by mis-reporting the type of imports, in addition to under-reporting the value of imports. This effect is even more pronounced when the evasion gap is measured using quantities rather than values.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8551.

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Date of creation: Oct 2001
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Publication status: published as Fisman, Raymond and Shang-Jin Wei. "Tax Rates And Tax Evasion: Evidence From 'Missing Imports' In China," Journal of Political Economy, 2004, v112(2,Apr), 471-496.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8551
Note: ITI PE
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  1. Kimberly A. Clausing, 1998. "The Impact of Transfer Pricing on Intrafirm Trade," NBER Working Papers 6688, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gordon H. Hanson & Robert C. Feenstra, 2000. "Aggregation Bias in the Factor Content of Trade: Evidence from U.S. Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 155-160, May.
  3. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
  4. Jean-Thomas Bernard & Robert J. Weiner, 1989. "Multinational Corporations, Transfer Prices, and Taxes: Evidence from the U.S. Petroleum Industry," NBER Working Papers 3013, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Andreoni, J. & Erard, B. & Feinstein, J., 1996. "Tax Compliance," Working papers 9610r, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  6. Assaf Razin & Joel Slemrod, 1990. "Taxation in the Global Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number razi90-1.
  7. Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 2000. "Tax Avoidance, Evasion, and Administration," NBER Working Papers 7473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Clotfelter, Charles T, 1983. "Tax Evasion and Tax Rates: An Analysis of Individual Returns," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(3), pages 363-73, August.
  9. Edgar L. Feige, 2004. "How Big IS the Irregular Economy?," Macroeconomics 0404005, EconWPA.
  10. Jonathan S. Feinstein, 1991. "An Econometric Analysis of Income Tax Evasion and its Detection," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(1), pages 14-35, Spring.
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