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Case study

Fiscal reform in Costa Rica. Price elasticities of major food categories to inform decision-making. FAO agricultural development economics working paper 23–04

In the context of fiscal reform in Costa Rica (value added tax revision), the definition of a new basic tax basket – canasta básica tributaria (CBT), incorporating nutritional criteria is underway in the country. In this study, price elasticities of major food categories were analysed using a Quadratic Almost Ideal Demand System (QUAIDS) model and data from the 2018 National Survey of Household Income and Expenditures – Encuesta Nacional de Ingresos y Gastos de los Hogares (ENIGH). Measuring price elasticities is essential because it allows: knowing the extent to which food demand reacts to price changes, anticipating changes in the quantities demanded as a result of fiscal policy changes, measuring potential substitution and complementary effects between food groups, and potential nutritional effects of fiscal policies. As a result, it helps to provide recommendations on the content of a CBT with nutritional criteria. Results show that the food categories with the most elastic demand are “bread and cereals”, "mineral waters, soft drinks and juices" and “milk, cheese and eggs”. Substitution effects exist between the following groups: “fruits” and “oils and fats”, “fruits” and “bread and cereals”, and between “milk, cheese and eggs” and “oils and fats”. For this last food category and for the one which includes sweets and chocolates, the consumption decreases when the price of “bread and cereals” increases. They are complementary goods. These relations between food groups need to be considered when defining a national CBT with nutritional criteria, and with the objective of promoting the consumption of healthier food groups while disincentivizing the consumption of the unhealthy ones. Lastly, it is important that the consumption of the healthiest foods within each food group be fiscally promoted.

In this study, we estimate income and price elasticities (uncompensated) of different food groups for Costa Rican households using the Encuesta Nacional de Ingresos y Gastos de los Hogares 2018 (INEC, 2018) and using a Quadratic Almost Ideal Demand System (QUAIDS) model. Price elasticities estimated from demand system models such as QUAIDS are key elements to measure the impact of fiscal policies on household spending for specific food groups. The objective of this work is to generate technical and reliable information for fiscal policy decision-making to promote actions to facilitate the consumption of healthier foods, especially in population with social vulnerability, and under the progressive approach of the current government. The results of this study could be used to redesign or evaluate current fiscal policies related to food and beverage consumption.

The findings of this working paper have been summarized in the policy brief Price elasticities of major food categories to inform fiscal reform in Costa Rica.


Latin America & Caribbean