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Peer Pressure: Tax competition and developing economies

Michael Keen's picture
A race to the bottom. Graphic by Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Economists tend to agree on the importance of competition for a sound market economy. So what’s the problem when it comes to governments competing to attract investors through the tax treatment they provide? The trouble is that by competing with one another and eroding each other’s revenues, countries end up having to rely on other—typically more distortive—sources of financing or reduce much-needed public spending, or both.

All this has serious implications for developing countries because they are especially reliant on the corporate income tax for revenues. The risk that tax competition will pressure them into tax policies that endanger this key revenue source is therefore particularly worrisome.

How can we build tax capacity in developing countries?

Jim Brumby's picture
Well-functioning tax systems allow countries to chart their own futures and pay for essential services such as education and healthcare.
(Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank)

This week, the World Bank, together with the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Co-Operation and Development, and the United Nations, submitted recommendations to the G20 on how we can best work to strengthen the capacity of our client countries to build fair, efficient tax systems. Responding to a request the G20 made in February, and working as the recently-formed Platform for Collaboration on Tax, we dug deep into our collective years of policy-setting, technical advice, and on-the-ground experience to arrive at guidance for providing assistance and suggestions for funding that work. In short, we looked at how best we could help.

The recommendations in our report, “Enhancing the Effectiveness of External Support in Building Tax Capacity in Developing Countries,” present an ambitious agenda for development partners to support developing nations to strengthen their tax systems and realize their development objectives, as well as strive for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.