Digital tax negotiations, under the AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol

African countries are negotiating for the Digital Trade Protocol under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). One key aspect of these negotiations is digital taxation, as African nations grapple with the challenges and opportunities posed by the rapidly growing digital economy in the region. We anticipate the negotiation to involve several crucial considerations:

  1. Balancing Priorities: balancing generating tax revenue from the digital economy and fostering an environment conducive to its growth. 
  2. Complexity of Digital Taxation: Taxing the digital economy is complex due to cross-border transactions, data flows, and the challenges of identifying taxable entities. 
  3. Sovereignty: Countries value their sovereign right to tax, and negotiations must respect this while still seeking international agreements to address digital taxation challenges.
  4. Unintended Consequences: Implementing global tax regimes like the OECD’s GloBE rules may disproportionately benefit developed countries and harm developing economies’ tax revenues. 
  5. Competitiveness: Harmonizing tax policies can affect a country’s competitiveness and attractiveness to investors. 
  6. Variability in Adoption: Even if the protocol includes provisions related to digital taxation, the actual adoption and implementation of these provisions can vary among participating countries. 

Negotiations should consider countries’ specific needs and circumstances carefully, ensuring that the harmonisation process doesn’t discourage investment or hinder economic growth. The Digital Trade Protocol negotiations should stipulate a common understanding of the regulation of the digital economy, including the terms under which foreign firms can access domestic markets. Collaborative efforts within the continent and internationally will be important in creating a fair and effective framework for digital taxation. 

This policy brief discusses the challenges of taxing the digital economy in Africa and how African countries should use the Digital Trade Protocol negotiations to establish a clear position on digital tax. The brief anticipates some of the challenges that the negotiations around digital tax could present for African governments in the Digital Trade Protocol negotiation process, and suggests policy support for addressing the challenges in the negotiation process.