Export taxes in the South African context
Export taxes are increasingly becoming a focus of attention in South African trade policy, and the objective of this paper is to review the trade and economic issues associated with these taxes. While they are similar to import tariffs in their effects, export taxes remain very much the ‘poor cousins’ of import tariffs in trade policy circles. While attention is paid to them in many bilateral and regional agreements, the multilateral World Trade Organisation (WTO) has little to say about them other than an awakening to their importance when it comes to negotiating a new member’s accession to the world body.
South Africa currently levies an export tax on unpolished diamonds in an attempt to develop local skills and promote the domestic industry, and it is considering a recent department of trade and industry report that recommends that consideration be given to an export tax on iron ore and steel. South Africa has some of the prerequisite market power in the global iron ore trade but not enough to ensure an outcome entirely beneficial to its export trade.
The salutary example of South Africa’s competitor India is discussed, as India recently increased its export tax in this sector to 30% and has seen its global market shares plummet. The more interesting sector for South Africa is the ferrochrome and ferrochrome ore trade, as here South Africa does have significant market shares. South Africa has had about a 45% market share over the last three years in global exports, while China has imported around 70% to 85% of this global trade in recent years. Advocates argue that a tax on chromite ore exports will shift the relative economics back to empower South African producers of processed ferrochrome.
This sets the stage for an interesting battle between South Africa and China, and one set against the background of South Africa’s recent admission to the BRICS club. If such an export tax is invoked, South Africa needs to be conscious that it at best provides a window of opportunity for the domestic sector to improve its technological efficiency and that it is not a long- or even medium-term solution.
Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.