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Tax Systems and Tax Reforms in South and East Asia: Overview of Tax Systems and main policy issues

Bernardi, Luigi and Gandullia, Luca and Fumagalli, Laura (2005): Tax Systems and Tax Reforms in South and East Asia: Overview of Tax Systems and main policy issues. Published in: Bernardi L., Fraschini A. Shome P. (Eds) Tax Systems and Tax Reforms in South and East Asia - London, Routledge 2006 : pp. 3-35.

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South and East Asia are a particularly fast developing world economic areas, and are becoming increasingly more economically integrated. These countries, however, are not homogenous, and are lacking in any supra - national Authority. The total fiscal pressure of South and East Asian countries looks somewhat low when compared to that of countries with a similar per-capita income, pertaining to other economic world areas. However, a smooth Wagner law is confirmed by the data so that fiscal pressure is destined somewhat to increase as growth continues. With regards to similar experiences of developing and transition countries, indirect taxes prevail over direct ones. Low tax wedges on labor improve efficiency, by inducing both the supply and demand of labor. The heavy burden on consumption lessens equity and increases welfare losses. Any further uniform analysis of South and East Asian countries’ tax policy issues would be however quite fruitless. It is far better to consider tax policies issues which rise inside the whole area separately to those more specific to each cluster made up by similar countries. Intra-regional economic integration poses severe challenges to the tax structure in the Asian area. Three tax policy issues seem most problematic: the building of intra-countries’ agreements on reducing trade tariffs; the sequential revenue consequences of reduction in foreign trade taxes; the increasing tax competition for FDI. Intra-countries clusters’ tax policy issues differ from each other. In Japan and in S. Korea different choices have been made regarding the comprehensiveness of the PIT’s basis, whose burden as a consequence ends up being more fairly distributed in S. Korea. The two countries are facing the common problem of an ageing population and consequentially, social contributions, and eventually VAT are being raised. Malaysia’s direct taxes look higher than Thailand’s, but this is only because of the taxation of oil companies. Thailand has adopted VAT, while Malaysia has not changed its traditional sales tax. Both the countries are engaged in the recovery of revenue by improving tax administration. Both in China and in India income tax is small and poorly redistributing. Also, India has just moved from a schedular to a comprehensive tax basis. VAT is well established in China, while it is just arriving in India, as a consequence of a long waited but challenging reform, especially regarding the tax relationships among levels of government. Taxing power is now more centralized in China, but this needs to be corrected in order to avoid a lack of accountability on the part of the provinces.

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