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Argentina to Tax Wealthy to Pay for Pandemic Measures

Annie Grey reports on Argentina’s recent plans to tax high-income residents to safeguard those especially vulnerable to the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Photo by Sasha Stories

Argentina has taken significant measures to safeguard the poorest in society from ongoing economic troubles caused by the pandemic, by issuing a one-off levy on millionaires in order to pay for coronavirus measures.

The population of approximately 44 million, has been badly hit by the coronavirus, with more than 1.5 million cases and over 40,700 deaths, according to figures from Worldometer. The pandemic has amplified already high unemployment and poverty rates in the country, which has been in recession since 2018.

In a bid to combat the ongoing impacts caused by the pandemic, Argentinian residents with assets worth more than 200 million pesos (£1.8 million; $2.5 million), will be asked to step up to fund medical supplies and relief for the poor and small businesses. This is thought to affect around 12,000 people.

The Millionaire’s Tax

The proposal, dubbed the ‘millionaire’s tax’, was signed into law on 4 December 2020, with 42 votes in favour and 26 against. The government of President Alberto Fernandez hopes to raise 300 billion pesos (£2.73 billion; $3.75 billion) with the one-off levy, which had previously passed the Chamber of Deputies with 133 for votes to 115 against. The tax it thought to reach 0.8% of total taxpayers.

Hernan Letcher, the Director of the Centre for Economic Policy Studies (CEPA), stated that the bill is representative of a wider push to ensure greater “tax justice”. As he claims:

"The proposal is not exclusive to Argentina and there are at least 11 countries in Europe and Latin America that are advancing in greater tax justice. These measures, to support family income and subsidies, are to mitigate inequality"

Opposing the tax, Daniel Pelegrina, president of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), warned that Heller "wants to present it [the tax] as a contribution of the richest, but we know what happens with all those unique taxes, they stay forever".

Increase in Tax Residency Abroad

Under the scheme, those with declared assets greater than 200 million pesos will pay a rate of up to 3.5% on wealth in Argentina and up to 5.25% on wealth outside the country. The focus on wealth outside the country is of importance, as more than 500 Argentines have taken up tax residency abroad this year, according to Bloomberg, almost half of them in Uruguay, which has been more effective in managing the ongoing pandemic. Central Bank data showed non-resident deposits in Uruguayan banks grew by $528 million in the year since primary elections in Argentina signalled the populist left, led by Fernandez, were on track to take power. Most of those deposits are thought to belong to Argentines.

The increase in departures is thought to be driven by increasing taxes, and proposals for more increases to come, growing political division, escalated poverty levels, and ongoing spikes in the Covid-19 virus. Argentina is currently suffering 41% inflation, ever-tightening currency controls, and a collapse in GDP, with a high probability of default.

Uruguay has achieved one of the world’s most successful outcomes in their approach to the pandemic, with the death toll standing at 92.

You may also like: The Wealthy Get Wealthier Amid Pandemic

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