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America’s Bad Border Tax

NEW YORK – The United States may be about to implement a border adjustment tax. The Republican Party, now in control of the legislative and executive branches, views a BAT – which would effectively subsidize US exporters, by giving them tax breaks, while penalizing US companies that import goods – as an important element of corporate-tax reform. They claim that it would improve the US trade balance, while boosting domestic production, investment, and employment. They are wrong.

The truth is that the Republicans’ plan is highly problematic. Along with other proposed reforms, the BAT would turn the US corporate income tax into a tax on corporate cash flow (with border adjustment), implying far-reaching consequences for US companies’ competitiveness and profitability.

Some sectors or firms – especially those that rely heavily on imports, such as US retailers – would face sharp increases in their tax liabilities; in some cases, these increases would be even greater than their pre-tax profits. Meanwhile, sectors or firms that export, like those in manufacturing, would enjoy significant reductions in their tax burden. This divergence seems both unwarranted and unfair.

The BAT would have other distributional implications, too. Studies indicate that it may hit consumers among the bottom 10% of income earners hardest. Yet it has been promoted as a way to offset the corporate-tax cuts that Republicans are also pushing – cuts that would ultimately benefit those at the top of the income distribution.