Coordinating tax reforms in the poorest countries : can lost tariffs be recouped ?
A revenue-neutral switch from trade taxes to domestic consumption taxes is fraught with implementation challenges in countries with a large informal sector. It is shown for a sample of low-income countries over 25 years that they have had a mixed record of offsetting reductions in trade tax revenue. The paper then analyzes the specific case of Nepal, using a unique data set compiled from unpublished customs records of imports, tariffs and all other taxes levied at the border. It estimates changes to revenue and domestic production associated with two sets of reforms: i) proportional tariff cuts coordinated with a strictly enforced value-added tax; and ii) proposed tariff cuts under a regional free trade agreement. It is shown that a revenue-neutral tax reform is conditional on the effectiveness with which domestic taxes are enforced. Furthermore, loss of revenue as a result of intra-regional free trade can be minimized through judicious use of Sensitive Lists that still cover substantially all the trade as required by Article XXIV of the GATT.
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