Chapter

Chapter 6. Tax Incentives: To Use or Not To Use?

Author(s):
Krishna Srinivasan, Inci Otker, Uma Ramakrishnan, and Trevor Alleyne
Published Date:
November 2017
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Author(s)
Meredith A. McIntyre

Introduction

Tax incentives are all too pervasive in the Caribbean and have been an integral part of the tax systems since the 1970s. They were enacted to attract private investment in tourism, manufacturing, and agro-industries in an attempt to diversify the economy away from primary commodity exports—sugar and bananas—that were adversely affected by the dismantling of preferential trading arrangements with Europe in the 1990s. Concessions for investment in sectors such as tourism and manufacturing have generally been provided through targeted legislation, such as the Fiscal Incentives Act, Aid to Pioneer Industries Act, and the Hotel Aids Act. Tax incentives granted for regional, social, and welfare reasons are provided in the Common External Tariff (CET) Act and in specific legislation covering statutory bodies and state enterprises.

An important reason often provided by authorities in the Caribbean for the widespread use of tax incentives, particularly in the tourism sector, is the increased competition in this market in the Caribbean. Every country feels compelled to offer generous incentives packages to both existing and potential investors, since they fear that otherwise these investors will move their existing or potential investment to a competing destination in the region. Another argument advanced in support of incentives schemes is that they strengthen competitiveness by compensating investors for distortions and inefficiencies in the economy. However, from the investors’ perspective, evidence suggests that tax incentives themselves do not necessarily make a country more attractive; investment location decisions are driven more by overall cost competitiveness.

Experience in the Caribbean indicates that tax incentives have had a positive impact on foreign direct investment (FDI), particularly in the tourism industry. At the same time, however, such incentives have imposed significant costs on host economies because they have resulted in large revenue losses, exacerbating already-weak fiscal conditions, including rising public debt levels, in most countries. Indeed, a study by the Vale Columbia Center (2013) notes that by any measure—whether percent of government revenues, percent of the value of the investment for which incentives are provided, or the cost per job created—these incentives have proved to be costly.

Against this backdrop, the IMF’s policy advice has emphasized streamlining incentives schemes to minimize costs and reduce distortions by not favoring specific activities, while underscoring the importance of structural reforms to improve competitiveness and the domestic economic and business environment to attract private investment. These issues are further elaborated in this chapter.

The next section provides a brief synopsis of the typology of tax incentives in the Caribbean, and is followed by a discussion of their effectiveness. The subsequent section elaborates on policy recommendations, followed by a discussion of reform experiences based on two country case studies—Jamaica and Grenada. The final section provides concluding remarks.

A Typology of tax Incentives in the Caribbean

Tax holidays are widely used throughout the world. Table 6.1 indicates that tax holidays are commonplace in South Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the East Asia Pacific countries, but less so in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. This reflects the gradual shift away from the use of tax holidays over time in developed countries because of their ineffectiveness in increasing investments.

Table 6.1.Prevalence of Tax Incentives around the World
Number of Countries Surveyed (percent)Tax Holiday or Tax Exemption (percent)Reduced Tax Rate (percent)Investment Allowance or Tax Credit (percent)VAT Exemption or Reduction (percent)R&D Tax Incentive (percent)Super-Deductions (percent)SEZ, Free Zones, EPZ, Freeport (percent)Discretionary Process (percent)
East Asia and Pacific12929275758388325
Eastern Europe and Central Asia16753119943109438
Latin America and the Caribbean24752946581347529
Middle East and North Africa1573401360008027
OECD332130617976186727
South Asia7100437110029577114
Sub-Saharan Africa306063737310235747
Source: Vale Columbia Center 2013, 53.Note: EPZ = export processing zone; OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; R&D = research and development; SEZ = special economic zone; VAT = value-added tax.
Source: Vale Columbia Center 2013, 53.Note: EPZ = export processing zone; OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; R&D = research and development; SEZ = special economic zone; VAT = value-added tax.

Tax incentives are widespread in the Caribbean. Virtually all countries in the region have special incentives regimes aimed at attracting and retaining private investment by compensating investors for high operating costs and low productivity. In the absence of an effective regional agreement on tax harmonization, intense tax competition occurs as countries vie with each other to attract private investment. Table 6.2 provides a snapshot of the various types of tax incentives or holidays being provided by countries in the Caribbean.

Table 6.2.Summary of Tax Incentives in Caribbean Countries
CountryTax HolidaysOther Incentives
Antigua and Barbuda3–20 years (general)

6–25 years (tourism, manufacturing, information and communications technology, financial services, health and wellness, energy, and creative industry)
Cabinet, at its discretion, may exempt persons or enterprises from any tax or duty

Carryforward on losses from tax holidays for up to seven years

Exemption from Antigua and Barbuda sales tax, customs duties, and revenue recovery charge on all capital items in tourism, manufacturing, information and communications technology, financial services, health and wellness, energy, and creative industries

Reduction in property tax rate of from 10 to 100 percent

Stamp duty reduction of from 10 to 100 percent

Exemption from environmental levy

Exemption from Antigua and Barbuda sales tax, corporate income tax, and withholding tax for international business corporations
Barbados11–15 years

10 years for renewable energy projects
Minister of Finance has substantial discretionary powers under Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemptions) Act to grant exemptions to any person or business.

Reduced corporate tax rate (15 percent) on manufacturing and construction, and for small businesses

20–40 percent initial and investment allowances

Exemptions from VAT and customs duties on plant and equipment and raw materials for manufacturing, and small business

Exemptions from VAT and customs duties on building materials and supplies in hotels in the tourism industry

Export allowance provisions

Deductions

Capital expenses are allowed 150 percent deduction for qualifying expenditures under the Tourism Development and Shipping Incentives Acts

100 percent deduction on interest (150 percent for renewable energy)

10 percent tax credit on qualified new employment

35–93 percent tax credit on export and foreign currency earnings Losses carried forward for nine years
BelizeUp to 5 yearsReduced tax rate on customs duties and VAT

Exemptions

Receipts of less than BZ$54,000 per year

Rental receipts of less than BZ$1,650 per month and sole source of income

Interest on savings

Employment income

Charitable contributions up to BZ$30,000 per year
Dominica5–20 yearsVAT and customs duty waivers for machinery and equipment for manufacturing;

VAT waivers for building materials (tourism) VAT exemption for agricultural and fishing inputs

Accelerated depreciation of up to 20 percent upon expiration of tax holidays

No taxes for offshore banking and insurance

VAT and customs exemption on gifted items and building materials for schools

VAT and customs exemption on gifted items for churches, charitable organizations, private schools, and universities
GrenadaTax legislation and Investment Act were revised in 2016. These acts establish a standardized statutory investment incentives regime for eligible priority sectors: tourism (accommodation, restaurants, services); agriculture and agribusiness; manufacturing; education and training; health and wellness; information and communications technology; energy; medical services; sports; creative industries.

Reduced incentives apply to other eligible sectors (taxi and tour operators, student accommodation, and heavy equipment operators).
Automatic exemptions and tax concessions to eligible sectors include the following:

VAT—suspension of VAT applicable to all eligible sectors on imports of building and raw materials, and machinery and equipment. In addition, zero rating of VAT on local purchases of building materials and capital goods for priority sector projects exceeding EC$30 million.

Customs (Import) Duty—applicable to eligible sectors, based on specified category of imported items by sectors, with waivers of from 50 to 100 percent.

Customs Service Charge— applicable only to raw materials for all manufacturers at reduced rate of 3 percent.

Excise Tax—same percentage exemption as duty exemption on raw materials and vehicles for qualifying investment in eligible sectors except student accommodation.

Property Transfer Tax—50–100 percent waiver, based on investment costs and geographic location, applicable only to priority sectors. For villas and condos, reduced rates of 1 percent and 5 percent for the developer and purchaser, respectively, on first sale; a rate of 2.5 percent for both buyer and seller on subsequent sales.

Withholding Tax—on interest charges and royalty fees, applicable only to tourism accommodation and health and wellness projects. Tiered waivers based on investment costs (50 percent for EC$30 million to EC$80 million; 100 percent for investments over EC$80 million).

Loss Carryforward—100 percent of losses in any year carried forward for six years, applicable to tax-compliant companies in all eligible sectors.

Investment Allowance—at a rate of 100 percent of qualifying capital expenditure, applicable only to priority sectors.

Tax Credit for Training—deductible allowance at rate of 150 percent of qualifying training costs, to all eligible sectors.

Tax Credit for Research and Development—150 percent tax credit applicable only to agriculture and agribusiness.
Guyana5–10 yearsNoncommercial companies face a 35 percent corporate income tax.

Exemptions include the following:

Import duty for all oil products, imports from CARICOM, fuel imports from Venezuela and Curaçao, vehicles for public servants, and certain manufacturing equipment and raw materials

Tax credit for VAT on goods imported for business, and zero rate on large working capital items

Up to 75 percent reduction in corporate income tax for exporters of nontraditional products outside the CARICOM area

Nontraditional agro-processing, communication technology, petroleum exploration and refining, mineral extraction, and tourism

Charitable organizations are exempt from CIT, withholding tax, and property tax.

Exempted types of income

  • 50 percent of capital gain on developed property
  • 25 percent of capital gain on undeveloped property
  • Interest and other income that is subject to withholding tax
  • Treasury bill discounts earned by commercial banks Donations to companies, limited to 10 percent of their chargeable income.


Transparency

Tax exemptions are published annually, starting in 2004.

Exemptions are established at the legal level.

Some exemptions are given under the Customs Duties Orders.
HaitiUp to 15 yearsTax holiday: Zero rate for up to 15 years, gradually increases thereafter starting at 15 percent.

Tax incentives are established by law, with no discretion. Available to both domestic and foreign investors.

Sectors: Exports and reexports, agriculture, craft, manufacturing, tourism and associated services, free trade zones.

Exemptions from turnover tax for local manufacturers that import their new material and export their production or sell to an exporter

Offshore banking, nonprofit organizations, and charitable organizations are exempt from customs and income tax. Export processing zones are exempt from royalties, local taxes (except license), VAT and other indirect taxes, and customs duties and fees on equipment imports.
JamaicaNo tax holidays. Corporate tax rate is 25 percent (excluding regulated industries, which continue to be taxed at a higher rate).Cabinet approved de minimis cap on discretionary waivers of J$10 million per month.

Simplified capital allowances and tax depreciation rates aligned with economic life of assets for new investments

Enterprises in tourism industry could either retain exemptions under previous incentives regime (Hotels [Incentives] Act) or move to new regime. Grandfathered companies would pay VAT at standard rate of 16 percent (rather than reduced VAT rate for tourism of 10 percent) until their current set of incentives ends.

Employment tax credit for all statutory payroll levies (education tax, National Housing Trust, National Insurance, and Human Employment and Resource Training contributions) capped at 30 percent of the chargeable income tax

The Large-Scale Projects and Pioneer Industries Act permits the minister to grant unspecified tax concessions to qualifying investment projects up to 0.25 percent of GDP per year.

Exemptions
  • Charitable, religious, scientific, and educational organizations
  • Income and incentives on capital expenditure to an approved organization in a special development area
St. Kitts and NevisUp to 15 yearsCabinet, at its discretion, may exempt any person or enterprise from any tax or duty.

Exemption from VAT and customs duties on plant, machinery and equipment, and raw materials in manufacturing

Exemption from VAT and customs duties on building materials in tourism

VAT and customs duty exemptions for churches, charitable and sporting organizations, private schools, universities, and returning residents

Exemption from VAT of listed equipment for agriculture and fishing Reduced property tax rate by up to 75 percent
St. LuciaUp to 25 years (manufacturing)

Up to 15 years (tourism)

Up to 15 years (micro and small business)

5 years for yachting activity

5 years in the Free Trade Zone, subsequently, 2–8 percent on chargeable income
Rebate on profits for exports outside CARICOM of from 25 to 50 percent of paid income tax

No taxes for offshore banking and insurance

Reduced corporate tax rate (20 percent) on residential complexes, conference centers, commercial buildings, and arts and cultural investments

Reduced VAT rate (8 percent) for goods and services provided by hotels

Exemption from VAT and customs duties on machinery, plant and equipment, and raw materials in manufacturing

Exemption from customs duties on building materials for micro and small-scale enterprises

Exemption from VAT and customs duties on listed equipment for agriculture and fishing

Exemption from VAT and customs duties for churches, charitable organizations, sporting organizations, private schools, universities, and radio stations

Exemption from customs duties for yachting equipment and materials for five years

Cabinet-approved discretionary exemptions from VAT and customs duties to individuals and companies
St. Vincent and the GrenadinesTax holidays up to 15 yearsLosses carried forward for five years after tax holiday

Tax credit for exports (up to 50 percent) depending on the ratio of exports to total profits

Income from exports taxed at reduced rates (15–30 percent) depending on export destination

Exemption from corporate tax, VAT, and customs duties for companies engaged in development of tourism on Mustique, Canouan, and Quatre Isle Islands

Reduced VAT rate (10 percent) on tourism for accommodation, diving, and marine or land tour services

Exemption from VAT and customs duties on building materials and hotel equipment in tourism

Exemption from tax on income from farming and VAT and customs duties on agriculture and fishing inputs

Exemption from income tax from construction, sale, or lease of residential accommodation for up to 10 years

Exemption from corporate income tax on dividends Exemption from CIT, customs duties, and property tax for small businesses

Exemption from custom duties and property tax, and 1 percent income tax for international companies Cabinet at its discretion may exempt any individual or company from tax or duty.
SurinameUp to 10 yearsHoliday period depends on the value of the investment and employment generation.

Tax incentives are based on the Investment Law of 2001.

The Raw Material Act, based on a presidential resolution, is outside of the Investment Law.

Reduced rate on customs duties and sales tax

The exemption does not apply if the profits, after offsets for losses, amount to twice the invested capital.

Sectors: agriculture, fishery/aquaculture, mining, forestry, tourism (except casinos), construction, manufacturing, road transport, and trade.

Exemptions from import duties and turnover tax for the following:
  • Imports of investment goods per Investment Law of 2001
  • Imports of project goods if they are financed by investment donors per the Tariff Act
  • Imports of all goods from CARICOM that are wholly produced within the community, per the Tariff Act (with the exemption of sales tax)
  • Imports of raw materials per the Raw Material Act
Nonprofit organizations and charitable institutions do not pay taxes. Both domestic and foreign investors have the same incentives.
Trinidad and TobagoUp to 5 yearsReduced rate on customs duties and VAT Allowance to companies that export to countries outside of CARICOM:
  • − An allowance that equals 150 percent of all promotional expenses is deducted from profits.
  • − An allowance that equals 15 percent of capital cost
  • − An allowance that equals a maximum of 25 percent of the value of investment is deducted from chargeable profits


Deductions
  • Wear and tear on plant and machinery and buildings used in the production of income
  • Bad and doubtful debt
  • Premium paid on fire insurance
Source: Country authorities.Note: CARICOM = Caribbean Community; CIT = corporate income tax; VAT = value-added tax.
Source: Country authorities.Note: CARICOM = Caribbean Community; CIT = corporate income tax; VAT = value-added tax.

Generally, tax incentives schemes are directed at a few sectors in the economy, mostly export-related industries, and the package typically consists of corporate income tax holidays and exemptions from value-added taxes (VAT) and customs duties. Holidays for corporate income taxes are the most widely used incentives in the region. Countries offer tax holidays ranging from five to 251 years. These holidays are typically granted to specific sectors, notably tourism and manufacturing, for which the Caribbean countries are viewed as having a comparative advantage. Many countries in the region also grant corporate income tax exemptions to offshore banking and insurance. In some countries, income tax laws include accelerated depreciation provisions and allow net operating losses to be carried forward for a certain period.

Import-related tax exemptions are also commonplace in the tax incentives schemes in the region. Like corporate tax holidays, these tax incentives exempt qualified investors from paying customs duties and VAT on imports for a defined period. In some instances, such exemptions could amount to almost 100 percent of taxes and duties owed. Import duty exemptions can be provided only for items listed in the Customs Tariff Legislation that are subject to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) CET. In addition, a reduced VAT rate on tourism-related services, including hotel accommodation, is quite common in the region (for example, in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis); the reduced rate applies to tour operators and restaurants in St. Kitts and Nevis.2 The scope of the VAT exemptions and zero-rated goods varies across individual countries, and the list usually includes items beyond basic staples and medicines.

Employment tax credits (to promote employment) and property tax exemptions, including preferential access to high-value land for investors in the tourism industry, are also frequently used. In addition, concessions to government agencies, statutory bodies, and nongovernmental organizations are also a common practice in the region. Typically, government imports are exempt from customs duties and excise taxes. In addition, statutory bodies, nongovernmental organizations, targeted private sector entities (for example, private universities in Grenada) and some utilities (electric power plants in Dominica and St. Lucia) receive customs duty exemptions.

It is important to note that, in almost all countries, the cabinet or the different ministries (finance, agriculture, commerce, tourism, and so on) have the authority to grant concessions, and in practice they have discretion in all aspects of the decision,3 including, for example, whether the legal requirements are fulfilled in an application and what the terms of the concession should be. Thus, many concessions are provided on a case-by-case basis, based on nontransparent cabinet decisions that leave many investors concerned about unequal treatment and favoritism. This said, it is evident from Table 6.1 that discretionary administrative processes are also pervasive in other regions of the world.

Effectiveness of Tax Concessions: Benefits and Costs

An obvious question is whether tax incentives have encouraged private investment, particularly FDI, in the region. The Vale Columbia Center (2013) study points out that firms engaging in FDI do so for four main motives:

  • Market seeking. Investors are in search of new consumers for their goods and services.
  • Resource seeking. Investment is driven primarily by the availability of, and access to, natural resources, raw materials, or low-skilled labor in a host country.
  • Strategicasset seeking. FDI is driven by a firm’s desire to acquire tangible or intangible assets (for example, advanced technology owned by a target company) to strengthen its own position or weaken the position of its competitors.
  • Efficiency seeking. Investment is motivated by firms seeking to decrease their costs of production by transferring production to locations with low labor costs or rationalizing their operations.

The study analyzes the impact of tax incentives on investors’ investment decisions based on the four motives for FDI. A typology is developed to illustrate the effectiveness of tax incentives on investors’ decisions varies by the nature of the business and its motive for FDI (Table 6.3).

Table 6.3.Typology of FDI and Response to Tax Incentives
Type of InvestmentFactors that Drive InvestmentResponse to Investment Incentives
Resource-Seeking FDILocation of natural resources, raw materials, low-skilled labor, agglomeration benefitsLow response. FDI driven primarily by nontax factors.
Market-Seeking FDIMarket potential

– Market dimensions

– Income per capita

– Customer-specific preferences

– Kind of goods and services to be provided
Low response. Level playing field between firms is critical (same tax system for all competitors).
Strategic-Asset-Seeking FDIAcquisition of strategic assets

– Brands and market positioning

– Know-how

– Technology

– Distribution networks

– Human capital
Low response. FDI is driven by the location of the asset. However, lower taxes on capital gains reduce the cost of the transfer of these assets.
Efficiency-Seeking FDILower costs

– Mostly export oriented

– Availability of skills at low costs

– Close to markets

– Low relocation costs
High response to tax incentives. Firms are expected to compete globally, hence, the lower the costs, the better their ability to compete globally.
Source: Vale Columbia Center 2013, 15.Note: FDI = foreign direct investment.
Source: Vale Columbia Center 2013, 15.Note: FDI = foreign direct investment.

Table 6.3 indicates that firms engaging in FDI to enter new markets or to acquire natural resources (or other strategic assets) are less influenced by tax incentives than are export-oriented, footloose firms investing in a country to take advantage of cheap labor and lower costs. The latter group seems most relevant to an understanding of FDI in the Caribbean and the role played by tax incentives in investment location decisions. Klemm and Van Parys (2012) find that Latin American and Caribbean countries competed over footloose investment; in some cases, tax holidays or a reduced tax burden were found to be effective in attracting FDI. Similarly, Cubbedu and others (2008) note that an earlier survey of multinationals in the Caribbean revealed that investment in the tourism sector is more sensitive, relative to other sectors, to tax incentives. In contrast, however, Chai and Goyal (2008), using a panel sample of Eastern Caribbean Currency Union countries for the period 1990–2003, find that tax incentives have a limited impact on FDI.

While the available evidence indicates that tax incentives have attracted FDI, it is evident they also impose significant costs, including notably the erosion of the tax base, the direct loss of revenue, efficiency losses due to the preferential treatment of specific activities over others, administrative complexity, and social costs from corruption and unproductive rent-seeking activities.

Analytical work by the IMF has focused greater attention on revenue losses from the provision of tax incentives by countries in the region. IMF estimates4 indicate that the total tax revenue forgone because of tax incentives, or the size of tax expenditures in the region, is between 4.4 and 7.0 percent of GDP, based on a sample of Caribbean countries in the period 2010–13 (see Table 6.4).5 The size of tax expenditures is not significantly higher than that in other countries. The Vale Columbia Center (2013) study presents data for 22 countries, including several OECD countries, and the size of tax expenditures as a percentage of GDP (Figure 6.1) is similar to that for the Caribbean. Moreover, based on data from the same study, it is clear that incentives are also a costly way to generate jobs (Figure 6.2).

Figure 6.1.Tax Expenditures as a Percentage of GDP

(Select countries)

Source: James 2013.

Figure 6.2.Incentives and Employment Costs

(Select countries)
Table 6.4.Revenue Losses from Concessions(Percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)
Overall Forgone Revenue (percent of GDP)Of Which: Discretionary
Share (%)2010–12
20102011201220132010–12MinimumMaximumMinimumMaximum
Antigua and Barbuda7.06.46.76.71.63.2
VAT4.63.84.04.220400.81.7
Import Duties1.71.92.11.835700.61.3
Corporate Income Tax0.70.70.60.715300.10.2
Others0.00.00.00.020400.00.0
Dominica3.94.94.34.41.02.0
VAT2.43.12.72.720400.51.1
Import Duties1.10.90.70.935700.30.6
Corporate Income Tax0.30.80.80.615300.10.2
Others0.10.10.10.120400.00.0
Grenada6.76.77.57.01.53.0
VAT3.83.93.73.820400.81.5
Import Duties0.50.61.40.835700.30.6
Corporate Income Tax0.50.50.50.515300.10.2
Others1.91.71.91.820400.40.7
St. Kitts and Nevis5.45.44.85.21.42.8
VAT1.71.61.41.620400.30.6
Import Duties2.82.82.32.635700.91.8
Corporate Income Tax0.90.91.00.915300.10.3
Others0.00.10.10.120400.00.0
St. Lucia6.45.77.36.51.53.0
VAT2.72.23.72.920400.61.1
Import Duties2.01.81.81.935700.71.3
Corporate Income Tax1.51.41.51.515300.20.4
Others0.20.30.30.320400.10.1
St. Vincent and the Grenadines6.35.47.89.96.51.63.2
VAT3.32.63.23.23.020400.61.2
Import Duties2.11.82.23.52.035700.71.4
Corporate Income Tax0.50.60.60.60.615300.10.2
Others0.40.41.82.60.920400.20.3
Barbados6.25.60.05.91.52.9
VAT3.52.93.220400.61.3
Import Duties1.91.81.935700.61.3
Corporate Income Tax15300.00.0
Others0.80.90.820400.20.3
Discretionary Waivers0.30.40.3
Jamaica6.15.97.86.61.53.0
VAT3.63.23.63.520400.71.4
Import Duties1.21.21.41.335700.40.9
Corporate Income Tax0.40.50.60.515300.10.2
Others0.90.92.21.320400.30.5
Source: Chai and Goyal 2008.Note: VAT = value-added taxes.
Source: Chai and Goyal 2008.Note: VAT = value-added taxes.

In addition, assessments of the impact of tax incentives in the region (Chai and Goyal 2008; Cubbedu and others 2008) conclude that although tax incentives have some effect on FDI, the impact is far less significant than the impacts from improving the economic and institutional environment, particularly the quality of institutions, upgraded infrastructure, transparent regulatory arrangements, lower energy costs, and more flexible labor markets.

Moreover, based on survey data from the Vale Columbia Center (2013) study, tax incentives rank low in importance to investors (Figure 6.3), and they are likely to have made the investment anyway even without the incentive (Figure 6.4).

Figure 6.3.Determinants of Investor Decisions

Figure 6.4.Importance of Incentives to Investor Decisions

Notwithstanding these stylized facts, since the Caribbean countries are actively engaged in intense tax competition, the question is what can be done to rationalize tax incentives and address the high costs?

Policy Recommendations

IMF policy advice has advocated a significant streamlining of incentives, based on clear principles, notably (1) broadening the tax base while reducing the tax rate; and (2) eliminating or reducing the scope for discretion while moving to a transparent, rules-based system.

Specific recommendations for streamlining or reforming incentives schemes have included the following:

Tax Holidays

  • Limit the granting of tax holidays, for instance by scaling back holiday periods for new investments (for example, all holiday periods should be a maximum of 10 years, but previously granted holidays would be grandfathered), with no renewal (Norregaard and others 2015).
  • Adopt investment-linked or performance-based incentives to encourage investment. As indicated in Table 6.2, some countries have already accelerated investment allowances, loss carryforward provisions, and accelerated depreciation allowances, which can be retained.

Import-Related Concessions

  • Rationalize the costly system of open-ended, discretionary duty concessions granted at the border. Key actions include (1) substantially cutting back eligible items on the list of conditional duty exemptions provided for under the CARICOM CET, (2) adopting an annual cap for aggregate duty exemptions and concessions, and (3) clearly specifying sunset clauses for all duty incentives.
  • Rationalize the tariff structure through the introduction of a few simple tariff bands, with less dispersion and lower nominal rates. Lower tariff rates remove the main argument for incentives (that is, high tariffs), thereby relieving the pressure for duty concessions. In addition, broadening the base of the tax is likely to result in higher revenues.

Other Incentives

  • Eliminate provisions allowing concessions for property taxes, stamp duties, and environmental levies.

Rules-Based System

  • Move to a transparent, rules-based approach to granting incentives in the region.
  • Consolidate tax incentives in one law (or alternatively in a few tax laws), available to all firms on the same terms to level the playing field. The granting of tax concessions would be through a transparent administrative process that does not permit discretion.

Tax Expenditure Budgeting

  • Initiate the reform process by moving to transparent and comprehensive accounting of the costs of incentives, so that tax expenditure budgeting would become an integral part of the annual budget.
  • Introduce caps on tax expenditures to embed discipline and limit the use of tax incentives. Caps on the annual costs of tax incentives (as proposed above) can be introduced. Initially, the focus could be on phasing out discretionary exemptions that are granted by cabinets, while maintaining a cap on legislation-based tax incentives programs.

Reform Experiences—The Cases of Jamaica and Grenada

Recent IMF-supported programs in Jamaica and Grenada provide case studies of credible efforts to reform tax policy, including tax incentives, in the region. The focus of the reforms was to broaden the tax base, reduce rates, and move to a transparent, rules-based system for granting incentives to narrow the scope for discretion.

Jamaica

Beginning in 2009, in the context of two IMF programs, and with the aid of technical assistance from the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank, Jamaica undertook a comprehensive tax policy reform aimed at addressing one of the major weaknesses in its tax system: the proliferation of sectoral and discretionary tax incentives. The goal was to put in place a uniform, broad-based, and low-rate tax system that applies to all entities. The most salient legislation during these reforms was the Fiscal Incentives Act (FIA) of 2013. The FIA reflected IMF advice to reduce both tax rates and tax expenditures by repealing several sectoral incentives programs6 and by reducing the main corporate income tax rate from 33 1/3 percent to 25 percent (excluding regulated industries,7 which continue to be taxed at a higher rate).

A key policy measure was the significant scaling back of discretionary waivers. Historically, these waivers were granted by the Ministry of Finance in accordance with provisions in tax-specific codes and reached nearly 2 percent of GDP in some years. As a first step, a cabinet decision established a de minimis cap to contain discretionary waivers to J$10 million per month; the cap remains in place (Figure 6.5). The reforms also reduced discretion by codifying requirements for becoming a charitable organization and thereby benefiting from associated tax concessions.

Figure 6.5.Discretionary Waivers

(J$ million, per month)

As an inducement, the FIA introduced an Employment Tax Credit (ETC) for companies in the nonregulated sector that migrated to the new incentives regime. The ETC is a nonrefundable tax credit totaling the sum of all statutory payroll levies (education tax, National Housing Trust, National Insurance, and Human Employment and Resource Training contributions) capped at 30 percent of the chargeable income tax. Maximum use of the ETC can reduce the effective corporate tax rate to as low as 17.5 percent. Adjustments were made to depreciation allowances and loss carryforwards. The reforms simplified capital allowances and better aligned tax depreciation rates with the economic life of assets.

The FIA used a “carrot-and-stick” approach to encourage incentives beneficiaries to make the transition to the new regime. This was particularly important for the tourism sector, which was benefiting from the Hotels (Incentives) Act. Existing projects were thus given the choice of either retaining their exemption, paying the general consumption tax (GCT) at the standard rate of 16.5 percent, and giving up access to the ETC, or moving to the new regime, continuing to enjoy a lower GCT rate of 10 percent, and accessing the ETC.

The customs tariff structure was also simplified. This effort reduced dispersion of tariff rates, with a medium-term objective of converging to a tariff rate of about 20 percent. Duties on a wide range of consumer goods were increased from 0 to 5 percent, while rates higher than 20 percent were mostly reduced. In accordance with CARICOM’s CET, the rates on basic building materials, nonconsumer goods for productive use, and several goods acquired for health sectors were reduced to 0 percent.

Partly because of these reforms, tax expenditures (a key indicator of base broadening) have been dropping steadily since 2008. Tax expenditures have fallen from more than 8 percent of GDP in 2008 to 4 percent of GDP in 2015 (Figure 6.6). From an international perspective, Jamaica’s tax expenditure has been reduced significantly (Figure 6.7). In addition to incentives reforms, this trend is also driven by other base-broadening measures, including broadening the base of the GCT to include government purchases, more foodstuffs, and electricity for businesses and some households

Figure 6.6.Tax Expenditures

(Percent of GDP)

Figure 6.7.Tax Expenditures

(Percent of GDP)

Despite substantial progress, some sectoral incentives schemes were retained: the Urban Renewal Program, which encourages investment in poor communities, notably in downtown Kingston; the Bauxite and Alumina Industries Act; and export free zones (EFZs). However, the EFZs were repealed by the FIA and have been replaced by World Trade Organization–compliant special economic zones that enjoy tax incentives, including a 12.5 percent corporate income tax rate rather than the full exemption that was received by the EFZs.

Despite considerable progress, there have been some reversals with new, somewhat discretionary, tax incentives introduced at the end of 2013. For example, the Large-Scale Projects and Pioneer Industries Act was implemented, permitting the minister to grant unspecified tax concessions to qualifying investment projects up to 0.25 percent of GDP per year. The projects must be shown to be consistent with the strategic priorities of the government and to have a transformational impact on the economy.

Grenada

Grenada undertook a comprehensive reform of the tax incentives regime with the introduction of the 2014 Investment Act and a series of amendments to the individual tax acts in 2015. The Investment Act streamlined investment procedures and codified investment requirements and incentives criteria. In addition, the legislative amendments removed discretion in the granting of tax incentives and codified specific incentives into Grenada’s tax laws.

The new tax incentives framework is centered around tax relief provided under the Income Tax Act, targeted at qualifying investments in priority sectors, including agriculture, education, energy, health, housing, manufacturing, and tourism. It provides for a 100 percent investment allowance (usable over a 10-year period) for corporate income tax. In addition, the depreciation allowance permits investors to recover qualifying investment costs before paying corporate income tax on investment profits.

Income tax deductions were also provided, including the following:

  • To stimulate growth, a 50 percent corporate income tax deduction for the cost of research and development in the agricultural sector
  • To promote skills development of the labor force, a 50 percent corporate income tax deduction for qualifying training expenditure
  • To assist investors in recovering their losses, extension of the period for carrying losses forward to six from three years

Incentives reforms also included changes to the VAT. To support investment in priority sectors, a VAT suspension regime was established for goods imported to undertake investment in a priority sector.

Finally, in consultation with CARICOM partners, Grenada removed discretion in the granting of customs duty exemptions by amending its list of conditional duty exemptions.

In summary, tax incentives reforms implemented in Grenada and Jamaica reflect the main elements of IMF advice to Caribbean countries. The focus has been on broadening the tax base by scaling back tax holidays, rationalizing the tariff structure, and reducing concessions in the VAT, together with moving to a rules-based, transparent system of granting tax concessions.

A Regional Approach to Tax Incentives

Although streamlining incentives will lower costs, it is essential that competition across countries in the region in providing incentives to attract investment is reduced to avoid a race to the bottom. While a country that succeeds in attracting a new investor may reap near-term benefits, the analysis in this chapter demonstrates it does so at a cost likely higher than it would have been in the absence of wasteful incentives competition. Currently, an offer and receipt of incentives has become the norm rather than the exception, benefiting investors at the expense of the country’s welfare.

Tax competition is a problem of collective action. Individual countries in the region do not want to restrain their ability to use tax incentives to obtain an advantage over other countries in the region, especially for tourism investment, knowing that other countries have not similarly committed to restrict use of incentives. In the absence of regional coordination, each country pursues its own interests to attract investment, which can lead to a race to the bottom where everyone is worse off.

International experience suggests that a coordinated approach involving a regional agreement on best practices for business taxation and tax incentives can address these collective action problems. Cebotari and others (2013) examine regional agreements in the European Union, Central America, and East Africa and find that they included provisions to award tax incentives transparently to all investors and were based on legislation (thereby removing discretion). In addition, they eliminated existing tax incentives while grandfathering companies that had already been awarded incentives.

IMF policy advice has emphasized limiting tax competition by intensifying the harmonization of tax incentives among Eastern Caribbean Currency Union and CARICOM countries. Advice includes a recommendation that the region adopt a code of conduct for tax incentives. Cebotari and others (2013) point out that most codes of conduct used in other regions have some common characteristics:

  • They are not legally binding. The code places a responsibility on the countries involved to be honor bound in observing the agreement. Institutional arrangements are put in place to monitor compliance and review complaints against noncompliant countries, but no sanctions can be applied.
  • Tax systems are transparent, with all tax incentives specified in legislation, provided to investors on the same terms, and with no administrative discretion.
  • Countries commit not to provide additional incentives or make existing incentives more generous, for example, by lengthening their duration.
  • Incentives that are inconsistent with the code are eliminated, although companies that have already been granted incentives are grandfathered until the expiration of the incentives.

Earlier efforts at harmonizing tax incentives, notably the Harmonized Scheme of Fiscal Incentives introduced in the 1970s by CARICOM, failed primarily because individual countries continued to perceive a benefit by deviating from an agreed framework. In addition, there was no strong regional institution with a clear political mandate to supervise and enforce the agreement.8 In contrast, the success of tax coordination in the European Union reflects each country’s political commitment to participate and support enforcement.9 Therefore, an important first step would be to establish an organizational home in a regional institution for developing and monitoring the implementation of policy on regional harmonization of tax incentives.

It is vital that the region ramp up efforts to achieve regional coordination, drawing on international best practice as highlighted above. It may be best to begin by taking stock of existing incentives and examining their cost to the individual economies. The transparent reporting of tax expenditures could provide the needed impetus for reform and regional cooperation as policymakers and key actors see in clear terms that the costs of tax incentives are undermining their fiscal frameworks and not moving their economies toward fiscal and debt sustainability.

Finally, IMF policy advice recommends attaching greater importance to the implementation of structural reforms vital to improving the domestic business and economic environment, thereby strengthening competitiveness and promoting investment. Generally, IMF staff have emphasized the importance of pursuing structural reforms to achieve greater labor market flexibility, lower energy costs through energy diversification, increase efficiency in the delivery of public services, and eliminate cumbersome bureaucratic procedures that harm the investment climate.

Conclusion

For a variety of reasons, including private sector lobbying in individual countries, pressures remain to maintain tax incentives to encourage investment in the Caribbean. Tax incentives have been helpful in attracting investment to the region, especially in tourism, but at substantial cost, particularly revenue losses that worsen already-vulnerable fiscal situations and undermine macroeconomic stability. Moreover, incentives create an unlevel playing field, even for similar businesses.

IMF policy advice recommends structural reforms to strengthen competitiveness and improve the business environment together with significantly streamlining existing tax incentives to minimize costs and enhance transparency. Specific recommendations emphasize centralizing legal provisions in one incentives law or alternatively in tax laws and adopting a rules-based, transparent system to minimize discretion. Also, income tax holidays should be scaled back and tax incentives for investment should be provided, including through accelerated depreciation allowances and loss carryforward provisions. To reduce the pressure for import-related concessions, the tariff duty structure should be rationalized by introducing a few simple tariff bands, with less dispersion and lower nominal rates. Finally, collective action is required across all countries to establish a regional approach to the harmonization of tax incentives that will limit tax competition and avoid a race to the bottom.

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1A study by the Vale Columbia Center (2013) indicates that most countries offer a tax holiday for between three and eight years, suggesting that the Caribbean is overly generous compared with the rest of the world.
2A reduced VAT rate also applies to hotel accommodation and food, beverages, and other related services by providers in the tourism sector (St. Lucia).
3Chai and Goyal (2008) find that tax legislation in the region typically did not provide detailed procedural rules or specific criteria for granting tax concessions.
5The data also indicate that revenue forgone because of discretion ranges between 1.6 and 3.2 percent of GDP.
6The FIA repealed the following legacy incentives: Export Industry (Encouragement) Act, Hotels (Incentives) Act, Resort Cottages (Incentives) Act, International Finance Companies (Tax Relief) Act, Petroleum Refining Industry (Encouragement) Act, Shipping (Incentives) Act, Cement Industry (Encouragement) Act, Motion Picture Industry (Encouragement) Act, Income Tax Act (Approved Farmer Rules), Industrial Incentives Act, and Industrial Incentives (Factory Construction) Act.
7The corporate tax rate of 33 ⅓ percent was retained for the financial and telecommunications sectors.
8More recently, CARICOM had been working on an Investment Code, but it seems to be dormant.
9The European Union code of conduct for business taxation is nonbinding, but it does have political force through the commitment of member states.

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