Closing remarks by Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, at the First High-Level Regional Tax Conference for the Asia and Pacific Region, 25 November 2021
Distinguished guests, panelists, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen:
I want to thank all of you for joining us at this first High-Level Regional Tax Conference for Asia and the Pacific, organized by the Asia Pacific Tax Hub.
On behalf of the Asian Development Bank, I am honored to deliver the closing remarks for this year’s conference.
Our conference comes at an opportune time. Governments across the region face the challenge of gradually emerging from the pandemic and trying to set their economies on a path toward a green, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery.
Tax yields across developing Asia
The journey toward recovery requires investment and targeted spending to protect the vulnerable. And, of course, spending requires revenue. With foreign aid or stimulus support drying up, the emphasis has decisively shifted to domestic resource mobilization. As shown on the slide, even before the pandemic, tax to gross domestic product ratios in our region were relatively low for our level of development. They were also often volatile.
The pandemic reduced the fiscal space available to many of our members and worsened further their debt-to-GDP ratios.
Asia Pacific and SDGs
The result is a region that is behind on all 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs. That is why this High-Level Regional Tax Conference stressed the importance of maintaining effective domestic resource mobilization and international tax cooperation as part of the ingredients to build the momentum toward achieving the SDGs.
ADB President Asakawa emphasized, in his keynote address, the open and inclusive nature of the Asia Pacific Tax Hub. He expressed confidence that this conference would result in dialogues on shared reform experience and best practices. And that this helps ensure stronger and more coordinated implementation of tax reforms.
Sessions 3, 4, and 5 today served as platforms for countries to share their experiences on key aspects of tax reform. They allowed developing and developed ADB members and development partners to discuss ways to achieve sustainable and equitable growth. They served as a venue for country representatives to actively participate in the conference. They also provided the opportunity to share information on different ways to mobilize domestic resources. This knowledge exchange on country reform experiences will help us better understand the challenges governments face and better identify the possible support needed for future tax system reforms.
The Asia Pacific Tax Hub
The main purpose of this conference was to acknowledge the core role to be played by the Tax Hub in moving the taxation agenda forward across Asia and the Pacific. It was a platform for all stakeholders to hold strategic discussions under the Tax Hub and identify priority areas. This is absolutely critical, so let me briefly summarize what we have learned over the past 2 days.
One of the most worrying effects of the pandemic on Asia and the Pacific is the deepening of inequality. Regional growth paths are diverging, and the pandemic affected several vulnerable groups harder, such as women. Many millions have slipped back into poverty across the region, undoing years of development progress. Also, many micro, small and medium-sized businesses suffered to the point of closure. It is not hard to see why tax measures and reforms are delicate topics, both economically and politically.
But reform is essential if we are to progress. Finding that delicate balance between the need to raise revenues and supporting the fragile recovery, while ensuring that the burden on the poor is not too heavy, is the primary challenge. Where fiscal mobilization is difficult, we need to go back to tax governance and its four key ingredients—efficiency, equity, transparency, and accountability.
The tax system cannot be seen in isolation of the overall reform and development agenda. It should be viewed as part of the broader SDG framework. To make reforms work, and ensure widespread understanding and ownership, a good public communications strategy is particularly important.
I strongly believe that these sessions helped emphasize the importance of domestic resource mobilization and international tax cooperation in generating what is necessary to fund a green, inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery. The conference outlined the challenges and the valuable lessons that have been learned from implementing specific reforms.
I am confident that this strategic dialogue and exchange of best practices will aid the future plans of the Tax Hub, our development partners and all our members. Yesterday, President Asakawa emphasized that the exchange of ideas and country experiences during the pandemic will be a vital input in the tax reform agenda going forward. He also stressed the urgency to act now to mobilize domestic resources to expand fiscal space, maintain inter-generational equity, and meet the development challenges of our times.
As the discussion on taxation and digitalization yesterday highlighted, new rules for the modern era have to be devised and harmonized by implementing jurisdictions. In this regard, we at ADB also look forward to participating actively in the G20 Presidency’s plans to build capacity in these two areas in particular. In the short term, the Asia Pacific Tax Hub will be instrumental to fulfill this endeavor, and in a longer term, it will, no doubt, grow to be the thought leader of the region.
Once again, I want to thank all our speakers, panel members and moderators who shared their valuable time, expertise and experience. I would also like to thank all our participants for helping make this event a success.
We look forward to continuing this important dialogue and working with all of you to translate our valuable words into value-added action.