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Collecting taxes and fees is a fundamental way for countries to generate public revenues that make it possible to finance investments in human capital, infrastructure, and the provision of services for citizens and businesses. 

Preliminary analyses estimate the financing gap for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for developing countries at about $2.5 trillion annually. Much of this financing gap will need to be met by increased private-sector investment in sustainability, which requires appropriate tax policies to create the needed price incentives. Yet, developing countries that are most in need of revenues, including fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS), often face the steepest challenges in collecting taxes.

Taxes have a key role to play in making growth sustainable and equitable, especially in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, and through such efforts as “greening” tax systems and fighting tax evasion and avoidance.

Many countries are still struggling to collect sufficient revenues to finance their own development. Countries collecting less than 15% of GDP in taxes must increase their revenue collection in order to meet basic needs of citizens and businesses. This level of taxation is an important tipping point to make a state viable and put it on a path to growth. As of 2018, 48% of IDA/Blend countries and 69% of FCS countries fall below this 15% baseline.

Making it easier to pay taxes improves competitiveness. Overly complicated tax systems are associated with high levels of tax evasion, large informal sectors, more corruption, and less investment. Modern tax systems should seek to optimize tax collections while minimizing the burden on taxpayers to comply with tax laws. 

There is a need to ensure that the tax system is fair and equitable. Governments need to balance goals such as increased revenue mobilization, sustainable growth, and reduced compliance costs with ensuring that the tax system is fair and equitable. Fairness considerations include the relative taxation of the poor and the rich; corporate and individual taxpayers; cities and rural areas; formal and informal sectors, labor and investment income; and the older and the younger generations.

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