Adjusting to External Imbalances within the EMU, the Case of Portugal
FEUNL Working Paper Series No. 556
53 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2011
Date Written: April 27, 2011
From 1995 to 2010 Portugal has accumulated a negative international asset position of 110 percent of GDP. In a developed and aging economy the number is astonishing and any argument to consider it sustainable must rely on extremely favorable forecasts on growth. Portuguese policy options are reduced in number: no autonomous monetary policy, no currency to devaluate, and limited discretion in changing fiscal deficits and government debt. To start the necessary deleveraging a remaining possible policy is a budget-neutral change of the tax structure that increases private saving and net exports. An increase in the VAT and a decrease in the employer’s social security contribution tax can achieve the desired outcome in the short run if they are complemented with wage moderation. To obtain a substantial improvement in competitiveness and a large decrease in consumption, the changes in the tax rates have to be large. While a precise quantitative assessment is difficult, the initial increase in the effective VAT rate needed to allow the social security tax to decrease by 16 percentage points (pp) is approximately 10 pp. Such a large increase in the effective VAT rate could be obtained by raising most of the reduced VAT rates to the new general VAT rate of 23 percent. The empirical analysis shows that over time the suggested tax swap could generate surpluses and improve the trade balance. A temporary version of the suggested tax-swap has the attractiveness to achieve a sharper increase in the private saving rate maintaining the short run gains in competitiveness. Finally, the temporary version of the fiscal devaluation could be the basis for an automatic stabilizer to external imbalances within a monetary union.
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