Afton Titus has written an article on Chinese investments in Africa implying more costs than benefits.1 What is more important is how she puts her article together. She violates almost all the rules either of academia or of international tax. She is aware of the many arguments that China is involved in debt trap diplomacy but she is also aware that most of those arguments have been discredited. She has arrived with a new argument.
What is this new argument? China is eroding Africa’s tax base by agreeing DTAs that allow Government loans and similar to be paid without withholding tax. She claims that the interest payment on loans from China is a fundamental part of African tax base. Most people’s eyes would now glaze over. Let me explain what she is saying. On $1bn loan interest at 7% would give rise to an interest payment of $70m. Withholding tax, if not exempted, would be $4.9m under say the China/Ethiopia treaty or $3.5m under the UK/Ethiopia treaty. Because Afton Titus does not compare DTAs she fails to mention that the China/Ethiopia treaty is less generous than the UK/Ethiopia treaty. It is this loss of $4.9m in withholding tax that she claims is an erosion of the African tax base. She even suggests that the loss of the withholding tax would render the entire $1bn investment non-beneficial. This is so absurd I find it hard to repeat it, but that is what she says. To take the matter further she suggests that African countries should campaign to change the DTAs with China alone even though the clause is common to all their treaties.
The profit on the actual construction could be $250m with a tax charge of $50m. This would dwarf the $4.9m withholding tax. It is also obvious that the financing company would simply adjust its interest rate to take into account any withholding tax. This is an interest rate arbitrage.
Afton Titus has setup a story where Africa is a victim even though the terms given to China (7%) were less favourable than those given to the UK (5%) in the Ethiopia case.
More astonishingly she supports IMF ‘imposing’ conditions on African governments which would constitute an act of treason by any citizen.
Those interested in more detail can read a detailed analysis.2
Fundamentally the issue is that Afton Titus has written an article on DTAs where she does not actually refer to the actual text of any DTA, does not compare the DTAs with other countries than China, ignores the obvious interest rate arbitrage issues, and suggests that African countries should act in a outrageously discriminatory manner in demanding terms from China that are not demanded from any other country.
These arguments are so absurd that one can only conclude, not that she is miseducated, but that she assumes that African tax professionals generally are so dumb and stupid that they would not be able to spot the absurdities of her argument or be able to count up the financial values of withholding tax as opposed to profits tax or notice the possibly treasonable nature of supporting IMF ‘imposing’ conditionality against one’s own government.
Afton Titus claimed: ‘this paper contributes to knowledge in the area of Sino-African relations’ . I wish.
1. (Titus, 2021)
2. (Ladimeji, 2023)
Ladimeji, D. (2023). China in Africa. African Century Journal. https://www.academia.edu/107588703/China_in_Africa_By_Dapo_Ladimeji_Chair_IFA_Africa_Region_1_Sept_2023
Titus, A. (2021). The Impact of Chinese Trade and Investment in Africa on the African Tax Base – More Costs Than Benefits? (SSRN Scholarly Paper 3788846). https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3788846