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Special> Coping With the Global Financial Crisis> Latest
UPDATED: October 28, 2009
84 Countries and Regions Converge on Beijing for Int'l Fiscal Summit

Delegations from more than 84 countries and regions will participate the ITD conference Monday, and a host of international experts from governments, the private sector and academia will make presentations and lead discussions on this important topic.

The ITD is a cooperative venture formed in 2002 and comprised of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission and the UK Department for International Development.

Its purpose is to foster dialogue on important topics in tax policy and administration and to function as a disseminator and repository of information on matters of interest in taxation around the world, through its website, www.itdweb.org.

The IMF attaches great importance to its role as a founding member of the ITD. Recent events in the world economy have made even clearer the necessity of international cooperation and sharing experience in economic matters, and this is the very purpose, which the ITD serves.

The topic of this conference is a timely and critical one. The world has been reminded recently and forcefully of the great importance of the financial sector for macroeconomic stability, growth, and development goals. The sector plays a critical intermediating function - without it credit could not exist, capital could not be channeled to useful purposes and risks could not be managed.

The conference will take place against the background of the worst financial and economic crisis to strike the world in three generations, and, while taxation was not itself the cause of the crisis, elements of the tax system are relevant to its background and resolution.

Most tax systems embody incentives for corporations, financial institutions and in some cases individuals to use debt rather than equity finance.

This is likely to have contributed to the crisis by leading to higher levels of debt than would otherwise have existed - even though there were no obvious tax changes that would explain rapid increases in debt. Tax distortions may also have encouraged the development of complex and opaque financial instruments and structures, including through extensive use of low-tax jurisdictions - which in turn contributed to the difficulty of identifying true levels of risk.

The magnitude of the fiscal challenges facing the world economy is greater than at any other time since World War II.

Estimates done by IMF staff on the fiscal adjustment necessary to bring government debt-to-GDP ratios down to 60 percent by 2030 - over 20 years hence - show a gap in the cyclically adjusted primary balances of some 8 percentage points of GDP in advanced economies to be closed between 2010 and 2020.

This cannot all be accomplished by expenditure reduction. New, or increased, sources of revenue will need to be found, on average perhaps 3 percentage points of GDP. While improvements in compliance and administration could account for some of that gap, it will be necessary to adjust tax policies to a degree not hitherto seen on a wide scale.

Although the world economy remains weak with downside risks and much hardship remain, signs of improvement are thankfully now visible.

This is an opportune juncture, therefore, to begin the work of planning countries' exits from the deteriorated fiscal positions developed in response to the crisis, and to give thought to questions raised by the performance of the financial sector in triggering the crisis.

What role can better tax policies and administration play in preventing a recurrence of this costly episode in economic history?

The financial sector has been, and must continue to be, a critical link in the development of the world's economies. The sector has played a key role in accelerating the development of the emerging markets - many of which, prior to this most recent episode, had grown able to tap the world's financial resources at an increasing rate unparalleled in history.

And for the world's most vulnerable economies, continued financial deepening will be absolutely necessary to permit them to meet their development goals. The upcoming conference will consider the role of taxation in both the industrial and developing countries with respect to these goals.

The conference will address not only the role of the financial sector as a source of revenue itself, and its broader role in the development and growth of the world economy, but also its function in assisting in administration of the tax system-through information reporting, collection of tax payments, and withholding.

This latter role will become ever more important with growing international cooperation in fighting tax evasion and avoidance.

Finally, we must not lose sight of the main function of the tax system - to raise revenue in an economically efficient, non-distortionary, and administratively feasible manner.

Even fully recognizing the existence of both market failures and policy-induced vulnerabilities, including those that contributed to this crisis, it is important to avoid accidentally introducing distortions through the tax system that may prove worse than the evils they are intended to remedy.

"Neutrality" of taxation of the financial sector in this sense is a benchmark against which deviations from this objective may be measured and judged.

One must ask whether any proposed interventions are targeted at a recognized externality or existing distortion, and, if so, whether the proposed action is the most appropriate response. And the multilateral institutions, in particular, must look to the effects which the financial sector and its taxation may have not only on the world's highly developed economies-those with the greatest depth of financial intermediation-but at the effects, direct and indirect, on the world's developing nations.

International cooperation on these matters will be critical to making improvements that will benefit all of us. This week's important event, hosted by the Chinese government and organized by the ITD, is itself a model in this regard.

(Xinhua News Agency via China Daily October 26, 2009)

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