Essays on policy reforms in trade, investment and taxation




Wagle, Swarnim

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This thesis consists of three essays on trade, investment, and taxation that are unified by their policy relevance to developing countries. Following an introductory chapter on policy reform, the first essay revisits the institutional determinants of foreign direct investment (FDI) using a comprehensive new data set covering more than 80 countries. It exploits the presence of confirmed zero investment flows between countries to estimate productivity cut-offs of firms that invest abroad profitably. This approach corrects likely biases arising from firm heterogeneity and country selection in a theoretically derived gravity-type model. The analysis finds inward FDI to be highly responsive to cross-country variation in specific institutional provisions, such as arbitration of disputes and legal procedures to establish foreign subsidiaries. The importance of FDI-specific regulations stands out even after controlling for the general quality of institutions. Statutory openness to FDI, however, has no association with actual inflow of investment. The second essay examines cross-national differences in the survival of exports through the lenses of product, industry, and country characteristics. The estimates are derived from a new application of discrete-time models instead of the continuous-time (Cox) models that are standard in trade duration analysis. The examination of exports originating in more than 100 developing countries covering 4000 products over 12 years shows that export flows are much more fragile than suggested by trade theory. Using new measures of product sophistication and export diversification, the paper finds evidence of information and network externalities that aid export survival. Exports concentrated in a few industries or in a narrow range of destination markets exhibit higher rates of death, whereas export concentration within some industries is positively associated with survival, suggesting a synergistic network effect. The probability of export death decreases with proximity from the capital content of products to the national factor endowment, competitive real exchange rate, and bilateral trade preferences. Further, death rates for dynamic subsets of exports like manufactured components and processed food differ from other products, belying the notion that short durations are necessarily a result of poor exporter capabilities. The third essay assesses the revenue implications of coordinated tariff and tax reforms. It is shown for a sample of low-income countries over 25 years that they have had a mixed record of offsetting reductions in trade tax revenue, and that Value-Added Tax (VAT) has, at best, played a limited role. The paper then analyzes the specific case of Nepal, using a unique data set compiled from unpublished customs records of imports, tariffs, and all other taxes levied at the border. It estimates changes to revenue and domestic production associated with two sets of reforms: i) proportional tariff cuts coordinated with a strictly enforced VAT; and ii) proposed tariff cuts under a regional free trade agreement. It is shown that a revenue-neutral tax reform is conditional on the effectiveness with which domestic taxes are enforced. Furthermore, loss of revenue as a result of intra-regional free trade can be minimized through judicious use of Sensitive Lists that still cover "substantially all the trade" as required by Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).






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