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What a taxing thought! Where in the world you find the strangest levies

A bucket of blueberries is seen at Blueberry Bottom Farm in Brighton, Iowa, on Saturday, July 22, 2023.
A bucket of blueberries is seen at Blueberry Bottom Farm in Brighton, Iowa, on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Copyright Jim Slosiarek/AP
Copyright Jim Slosiarek/AP
By Indrabati Lahiri
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From blueberries to piercings, junk food to baby name approval taxes, Euronews Business reflects on unusual tariffs from around the world.

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Taxes are an inevitable, if somewhat unwanted part of most of our lives. Some of the most common taxes include income tax, dividend taxes, property taxes and sales taxes, amongst others. Several countries also levy taxes on things such as inheritance, long-term and short-term capital gains, as well as excise duties and insurance premiums. 

However, would you pay a junk food tax? What about a baby name tax? Or a tax on the number of times you flush the toilet? These and several more odd taxes might make you pause and draw the purse strings tight again. 

Below are some of the strangest taxes in the world: 

Blueberry tax

The blueberry tax is primarily imposed in the US state of Maine, a state famous for its blueberries. As a result, the state of Maine has implemented the blueberry tax, currently levied at one and a half cents per pound of wild blueberries. This is mainly to prevent over-harvesting of the fruit, which would be detrimental to the state's economy. This tax is divided between the processor and grower of the fruit. 

The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine has, however, recently pushed back on this. It cites rising interest rates, labour costs and inflation which are all eating away at blueberry profit margins. Similarly, climate change, volatilities in price and soaring competition are also causing concern.

The commission has asked for a temporary one-year pause on the blueberry tax, in order to give the industry a chance to find its feet again. 

Robot tax

The robot tax is a South Korean tax implemented since 2017. It has effectively slashed tax breaks for robotics investments, to try to slow down job losses caused by robots in industries. These job losses are not only detrimental to workers and their families, but also to the government as a whole, by reducing tax revenue because, of course, robots don't pay tax.  

Adam Pennington, employment solicitor at Stephensons, a law firm, said on its website: "From the perspective of the employer, replacing people with robots in the workplace has a number of significant advantages. 

"A robot will not bring a claim for unfair dismissal or discrimination, nor would a robot employee require accountants to work out specific tax deductions and monthly wages. A robot could allow a business to generate a much larger income and at the same time, not have to worry about the regulations and protections that would prevent tribunal claims being brought against them. 

"I fear that in the not-so-distant future, lesser skilled employees will face the brunt of redundancies as their jobs are taken by robots, while employees with higher qualifications, skill sets and experience are arguably less likely to be made redundant."

Cow burp tax

The cow burp tax was a short-lived one in New Zealand, originally proposed by former prime minister Jacinda Ardern. This was mainly suggested in order to reduce greenhouse emissions such as methane, for which the agriculture industry typically plays a significant role. 

However, it was heavily opposed, due to farmers in New Zealand already being considerably more carbon-effective than in most other countries. Critics have also highlighted that imposing more emissions taxes on farmers without a clear plan or actionable tools on how to cut them are likely to cause more job losses, increased food prices and reduced export income. 

This led to New Zealand recently abolishing the cow burp tax, with the country's agriculture minister Todd McClay saying in a statement: "The government is committed to meeting our climate change obligations without shutting down Kiwi farms. It doesn't make sense to send jobs and production overseas, while less carbon-efficient countries produce the food the world needs. 

"That is why we are focused on finding the practical tools and technology for our farmers to reduce their emissions in a way that won’t reduce production or exports."

Chips tax

The Hungarian public health product tax, known colloquially as the chips tax, is a tax on a variety of junk food high in salt, sugar and other ingredients commonly considered unhealthy. This was imposed to try to encourage the population towards healthier choices, as well as reduce obesity amongst teens. 

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Passed back in 2011, it comes in the form of a 4% excise duty on packaged foods and drinks including sweets, condiments, soft drinks, chips and fruit jams. 

Other countries such as Mexico also have a junk food tax, in this case an 8% levy, implemented in 2013 on items including sweets, cereal-based processed foods, nut butters and snacks, all classified as non-essential. 

India, too, has a fat tax in some states, including Kerala and Gujarat, passed on foods such as burgers and pizzas. 

Barry Popkin, a University of North Carolina nutrition policy researcher said, as reported by Vox: "We may spend 5% to 7% of our food budget on sugary beverages, but we spend another 15% to 20% on junk food. If you take a country like the US, 33% to 57% of the calories adolescents get is from junk food."

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Baby name tax

The Swedish baby name tax is a tax on outlandish baby names, especially those which are significantly harder to pronounce. 

Parents can see themselves having to cough up about $770 (€717.06) for these kinds of names. Some names such as "Allah" and "Ikea" are banned outright, whereas other slightly unusual names such as "Lego" and "Google" are still accepted. Names such as Veranda, Metallica and Superman are not allowed. 

Swedish children's names need to be approved by the country's tax agency before a child reaches its fifth birthday. 

Several other countries also have restrictions on baby names, with Japan and France laying down the law against embarrassing or humiliating names, while New Zealand prohibits the use of any official titles as names. 

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Toilet flush tax

 The toilet flush tax is a tax imposed by the US state of Maryland, on the number of times residents flushed toilets, with the money collected from the regulation going towards restoring the Chesapeake Bay, which had been badly affected by an increase in algae that lives off phosphorus and nitrogen. Implemented in 2004, it first started at $30 (€28), before doubling in 2012. 

Back in 2017, Alison Prost, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was reported as saying by CBS News: "We're seeing water clarity improving, we're seeing the bay grass coverage larger and larger every year, and for last year, while we had areas of low oxygen, we didn't have a no oxygen area for the first time in a decade. It's working."

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