The future of fiscal policy for Latin America (III)

Lun, 09/11/2023 - 00:28 -- bacosta

The First Latin America and Caribbean Summit for Global Taxation, held on 28 July 2023, aimed to unify the region's voices on taxation. However, the event fell short of expectations. It showed significant limitations, such as the need for binding agreements, discrepancies between OECD and non-OECD countries, and a lack of ambition for bilateral and free trade agreement reforms. This article analyses the Summit's outcomes in light of the challenges of the energy transition.

After preparatory meetings on 2 and 3 May 2023, leaders of 16 of the 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries, led by Chile, Brazil and Colombia, all agreed at the Summit on 28 July to establish a permanent platform for tax collaboration. It resulted in the signing of a joint declaration, committing to "facilitate the exchange of information and reduce tax competition to increase regional revenue collection". The most outstanding measure was the approval of the "Regional Tax Cooperation Platform for Latin America and the Caribbean" governance system. Colombia will lead the presidency for one year, and ECLAC will be the technical secretariat in charge of presenting an annual plan in six months.

However, this agreement does not currently generate binding agreements. Although it seeks to provide guidelines against double taxation, it shows no commitment to legal obligations or dispute settlement mechanisms in case of non-compliance. The absence of ministers (the only one in this category was Ricardo Bonilla, Ocampo's successor in Colombia) and mostly second-tier positions point to a weak agreement.

Recall that the primary objective was to move beyond the "two OECD pillars" towards a more ambitious and unified regional vision. However, tensions persist between OECD and non-OECD members over how much and how to move away from these guidelines. Moreover, coordinated tax reform seems distant without addressing the modification of free trade and bilateral investment treaties or the problem of tax evasion and capital flight to tax havens. The Summit touched on these issues superficially. The meeting included a long speech by Joseph Stiglitz, who deepened his criticism of the OECD's minimum agreements. He warned of the risk that their proposals if ratified, could work for Latin America instead of a minimum tax as a maximum tax for multinationals of 15%. We are likely to see these conflicts again at the UN General Assembly, starting on 18 September, where a debate on the development of a new global framework for tax policy will take place. African countries, none of which are members of the OECD, seem to have reached a common position.

Meanwhile, Brazil joined Chile, Ecuador and Colombia in their recent tax reform efforts. However, they will follow the traditional route of raising revenue through higher consumption taxes, which tend to be regressive, postponing increases in income or wealth taxes. The Brazilian reform seeks to simplify its tax structure, taxing products only at their destination, thereby reducing tax competition between states and municipalities. It will also incorporate selective taxes on goods harmful to health and the environment.

As noted above, increasing tax revenues in Latin America is essential for the energy transition. The current dependence of many countries in the region on selective gasoline excise taxes and public oil company profits makes this challenge even more complicated. The International Energy Agency estimates that clean energy investments in developing countries would need to grow four to seven times to achieve the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, highlighting the crucial importance of public investment. [2]

Creating a permanent tax cooperation platform for Latin America and the Caribbean is the most important achievement of this Summit. However, the need for binding agreements and the unwillingness to consider reforms in bilateral and free trade agreements reduce expectations of going beyond the agreements established at the OECD. The urgent need for financing for a sustainable energy transition remains on the back burner due to the ability of large corporations to impose their interests and the inability of states to separate their sources of financing from oil. Meanwhile, tax reforms at the national level are proceeding cautiously, focused on consumption taxes. The intervention of the UN as an actor seeking to play a more prominent role in overseeing international fiscal affairs signals the continuation of these discussions in other fora.



[1] Post-doc IIEc and member of OBELA.


OBELA: Oscar Ugarteche, Bertín Acosta, Gabriela Ramírez, Alberto Tena, Monserrat Granillo, Patricio Gonzales, Brandon Young.


[2] EMDE countries (emerging and developing markets in Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, excluding China).

Tema de investigación: 
Integración y comercio