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Mar 23, 2017

Latin America and the Caribbean: Tax revenues continue to rise despite low economic growth

IDB, OECD, CIAT and ECLAC release annual report "Revenue Statistics in Latin America and the Caribbean"

Tax revenues in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries continued to increase in 2015, according to new data from the annual Revenue Statistics in Latin America and the Caribbean publication. The average tax-to-GDP ratio for LAC countries reached 22.8 percent of GDP in 2015, up from 22.2 percent in 2014.

The report, produced jointly by the Inter-American Centre of Tax Administrations (CIAT), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Centre for Tax Policy and Administration and the OECD Development Centre, covers 24 LAC countries, including Cuba and Belize for the first time. It was launched today during the 29th Regional Seminar on Fiscal Policy, held at ECLAC headquarters in Santiago, Chile.

The average tax-to-GDP ratio across LAC countries is currently 11.4 percentage points lower than the OECD average of 34.3 percent.The difference between the OECD and LAC countries is mainly explained by lower tax collection on personal income taxes and social security contributions in the LAC region; however, the difference between OECD and LAC tax-to-GDP ratios in 2015 is the smallest on record.

Surging revenues from the value-added tax (VAT) and excise taxes offset a decline of 0.2 percentage points in corporate income tax revenues and explain the overall increase in the LAC average tax-to-GDP ratio in 2015. This is the first decrease in corporate income tax revenues across LAC countries since 2011. In contrast, personal income tax revenue has reached its highest level, during the period covered in this report, at 2.1 percent of GDP.

Revenue Statistics in Latin America and the Caribbean shows that there is a wide variation of tax-to-GDP ratios across countries. Tax-to-GDP ratios in LAC counties range from 12.4 percent in Guatemala and 13.7 percent in the Dominican Republic to 32.0 percent in Brazil, 32.1 percent in Argentina and 38.6 percent in Cuba, which is the only country that had a tax-to-GDP ratio above the OECD average.

Amid these differences, a common feature in the region continues to be the reliance on indirect taxation as the main revenue source. On average, indirect taxation accounted for a share of 49% of total tax revenue in LAC countries in 2014, compared with an average of 33 percent in OECD economies.

The share of corporate income tax revenues in the LAC region remained high compared to OECD levels (16.8 percent of total tax revenues compared to 8.7 percent respectively on average) whereas the personal income tax revenue share was much lower than in OECD countries (8.8 percent and 24 percent respectively).

A special feature in this year’s report analyses the impact of declining international commodity prices on fiscal revenues. The substantial reduction of oil prices since 2014 resulted in a significant fall. As a result, oil-related public revenues went from 6.8 percent of GDP on average in 2014 to 4.4 percent in 2015 for the 10 LAC countries included in the analysis. Similarly the decline in mineral and metal prices reduced mining-related public revenues from 0.5 percent of GDP in 2014 to 0.4 percent in 2015. Further falls are predicted for revenues deriving from both commodities in 2016.

A second special feature of the report analyses the financing structure of sub-national governments in nine LAC countries. Sub-national tax revenues in these countries derive principally from recurrent taxes on immovable property, taxes on consumption and taxes on business and motor vehicle licences. Sub-national governments in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico were found to have a high level of tax autonomy defined as the degree on which sub-national governments can enforce new local taxes, define tax bases and grant tax exemptions to individuals and companies. In contrast, in Chile 58 percent of sub-national tax revenue is subject to a tax-sharing agreement with the central government.

Key findings

Tax to GDP ratios

  • On average, tax revenues in Latin America and the Caribbean increased from 22.2 percent in 2014 to 22.8% of GDP in 2015, a 0.6 percentage point increase. In comparison, tax revenues averaged 20.8 percent of GDP during the last decade.
  • Tax revenue growth was driven by taxes on goods and services, which grew by 0.5 percentage points. Personal and property taxes also increased by 0.1 percentage point. Additionally, social security contributions rose by 0.1 percentage points. These increases offset a decline of 0.2 percentage points in corporate income tax revenues.

Tax Structures

  • Taxes on income and profits as a share of total tax revenues increased between 2003 and 2014, spurred by the increase in prices of commodities in LAC countries. A small decline in the share of these taxes was observed in 2015, from 28.1 percent to 27.2 percent of total tax revenue.
  • The share of taxes on goods and services decreased from 55 percent of total tax revenues in 1990 to 49 percent in 2014. By contrast, in OECD countries, it remained stable at around 33 percent during the same period.

About us

The Inter-American Development Bank is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social and institutional projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Besides loans, grants and guarantees, the IDB conducts cutting-edge research to offer innovative and sustainable solutions to our region’s most pressing challenges. Founded in 1959 to help accelerate progress in its developing member countries, the IDB continues to work every day to improve lives.

More Information

Alberto Barreix
IDB Principal economist
Fiscal Management Division
albertoba@iadb.org

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