Enlarge ISBN (identifier) Free trade

A tariff is a tax on imports or exports between sovereign states. It is a form of regulation of foreign trade and a policy that taxes foreign products to encourage or safeguard domestic industry. Traditionally, states have used them as a source of income. Now, they are among the most widely used instruments of protectionism, along with import and export quotas.

Tariffs can be fixed (a constant sum per unit of imported goods or a percentage of the price) or variable (the amount varies according to the price). Taxing imports means people are less likely to buy them as they become more expensive. The intention is that they buy local products instead – boosting the country's economy. Tariffs therefore provide an incentive to develop production and replace imports with domestic products. Tariffs are meant to reduce pressure from foreign competition and reduce the trade deficit. They have historically been justified as a means to protect infant industries and to allow import substitution industrialization. Tariffs may also be used to rectify artificially low prices for certain imported goods, due to 'dumping', export subsidies or currency manipulation.

There is near unanimous consensus among economists that tariffs have a negative effect on economic growth and economic welfare while free trade and the reduction of trade barriers has a positive effect on economic growth.[1][2][3][4][5][6] However, liberalization of trade can cause significant and unequally distributed losses, and the economic dislocation of workers in import-competing sectors.[2]


The origin of tariff is the Italian word tariffa translated as "list of prices, book of rates", which is likely derived from the Arabic تعريف (ta'rif) meaning "notification" or "inventory of fees to be paid".[7]


Average tariff rates for selected countries (1913–2007)
Tariff rates in Japan (1870–1960)
Average tariff rates in Spain and Italy (1860–1910)
Average Levels of Duties (1875 and 1913)[8]

Great Britain

In the 14th century, Edward III (1312-1377) took interventionist measures, such as banning the import of woollen cloth in an attempt to develop local woollen cloth manufacturing. Beginning in 1489, Henry VII implemented plans such as increasing export duties on raw wool. The Tudor monarchs, especially Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, used protectionism, subsidies, distribution of monopoly rights, government-sponsored industrial espionage and other means of government intervention to develop the wool industry in England. England then became the largest wool-producing nation in the world.[9]

But the real protectionist turning point in British economic policy came in 1721. Policies to promote manufacturing industries were introduced from that date by Robert Walpole. These included, for example, increased tariffs on imported foreign manufactured goods and export subsidies. These policies were similar to those used by countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan after the Second World War. In addition, in its colonies, Great Britain imposed a total ban on advanced manufacturing activities that it did not want to see developed. Britain also banned exports from its colonies that competed with its own products at home and abroad, forcing the colonies to leave the most profitable industries in Britain's hands.[9]

In 1800, Britain, with about 10% of Europe's population, supplied 29% of all pig iron produced in Europe, a proportion that had risen to 45% by 1830; per capita industrial production was even higher: in 1830 it was 250% higher than in the rest of Europe, up from 110% in 1800.[need quotation to verify]

Protectionist policies of industrial promotion continued over the next century until the mid-19th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, the average tariff on British manufactured goods was about 50%, the highest of all major European countries. Thus, according to economic historian Paul Bairoch, Britain's technological advance was achieved "behind high and enduring tariff barriers". In 1846, the per capita rate of industrialization was more than twice that of its closest competitors.[9]

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Britain's average tariff on manufactured goods was about 51%, the highest of all major European nations. And even after adopting free trade for most goods, Britain continued to closely regulate trade in strategic capital goods, such as machinery for the mass production of textiles {{quote needed} date=May 2019}}.

Free trade in Britain began in earnest with the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, which was equivalent to free trade in grain. The Corn Acts were passed in 1815 to restrict wheat imports and to guarantee the incomes of British farmers. This devastated Britain's old rural economy, but began to mitigate the effects of the Great Famine in Ireland. Tariffs on many manufactured goods were also abolished. But while liberalism was progressing in Britain, protectionism continued on the European continent and in the United States.[9]

On June 15, 1903, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquis of Lansdowne, made a speech in the House of Lords in which he defended fiscal retaliation against countries that applied high tariffs and whose governments subsidized products sold in Britain (known as "premium products", also known as "dumping (pricing policy)"). The retaliation was to take the form of threats to impose duties in response to goods from that country. Its liberal unionists had split from the liberals, who advocated free trade, and this speech marked a turning point in the group's slide toward protectionism. Landsdowne argued that the threat of retaliatory tariffs was similar to gaining respect in a room of gunmen by pointing a big gun (his exact words were "a gun a little bigger than everyone else's"). The "Big Revolver" became a slogan of the time, often used in speeches and cartoons[10]

Because of the Great Depression, Britain finally abandoned free trade in 1932 and reintroduced tariffs on a large scale, noticing that it had lost its production capacity to protectionist countries like the United States and Germany.[9]

United States

Average tariff rates (France, UK, US)
Average tariff rates in US (1821–2016)
US Trade Balance and Trade Policy (1895–2015)

Before the new Constitution took effect in 1788, the Congress could not levy taxes—it sold land or begged money from the states. The new national government needed revenue and decided to depend upon a tax on imports with the Tariff of 1789.[11] The policy of the U.S. before 1860 was low tariffs "for revenue only" (since duties continued to fund the national government).[12] A high tariff was attempted in 1828 but the South denounced it as a "Tariff of Abominations" and it almost caused a rebellion in South Carolina until it was lowered.[13]

Between 1816 and the end of the Second World War, the United States had one of the highest average tariff rates on manufactured imports in the world. According to Paul Bairoch, the United States was "the homeland and bastion of modern protectionism"during this period [14]

Many American intellectuals and politicians during the country's catching-up period felt that the free trade theory advocated by British classical economists was not suited to their country. They argued that the country should develop manufacturing industries and use government protection and subsidies for this purpose, as Britain had done before them. Many of the great American economists of the time, until the last quarter of the 19th century, were strong advocates of industrial protection: Daniel Raymond who influenced Friedrich List, Mathew Carey and his son Henry, who was one of Lincoln's economic advisers. The intellectual leader of this movement was Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789-1795). Thus, it was against David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage that the United States protected its industry. They pursued a protectionist policy from the beginning of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, after the Second World War.[14][15]

In Report on Manufactures which is considered the first text to express modern protectionist theory, Alexander Hamilton argued that if a country wished to develop a new activity on its soil, it would have to temporarily protect it. According to him, this protection against foreign producers could take the form of import duties or, in rare cases, prohibition of imports. He called for customs barriers to allow American industrial development and to help protect infant industries, including bounties (subsidies) derived in part from those tariffs. He also believed that duties on raw materials should be generally low.[16] Hamilton argued that despite an initial "increase of price" caused by regulations that control foreign competition, once a "domestic manufacture has attained to perfection… it invariably becomes cheaper.[15] He believed that political independence was predicated upon economic independence. Increasing the domestic supply of manufactured goods, particularly war materials, was seen as an issue of national security. And he feared that Britain's policy towards the colonies would condemn the United States to be only producers of agricultural products and raw materials.[14] [15]

Britain initially did not want to industrialize the American colonies, and implemented policies to that effect (for example, banning high value-added manufacturing activities). Under British rule, America was denied the use of tariffs to protect its new industries. This explains why, after independence, the Tariff Act of 1789 was the second bill of the Republic signed by President Washington allowing Congress to impose a fixed tariff of 5% on all imports, with a few exceptions[9]

The Congress passed a tariff act (1789), imposing a 5% flat rate tariff on all imports.[17] Between 1792 and the war with Britain in 1812, the average tariff level remained around 12.5%. In 1812 all tariffs were doubled to an average of 25% in order to cope with the increase in public expenditure due to the war. A significant shift in policy occurred in 1816, when a new law was introduced to keep the tariff level close to the wartime level—especially protected were cotton, woolen, and iron goods.[18] The American industrial interests that had blossomed because of the tariff lobbied to keep it, and had it raised to 35 percent in 1816. The public approved, and by 1820, America's average tariff was up to 40 percent.

In the 19th century, statesmen such as Senator Henry Clay continued Hamilton's themes within the Whig Party under the name "American System which consisted of protecting industries and developing infrastructure in explicit opposition to the "British system" of free trade.[19][full citation needed] Before 1860 they were always defeated by the low-tariff Democrats.[20]

From 1846 to 1861, during which American tariffs were lowered but this was followed by a series of recessions and the 1857 panic, which eventually led to higher demands for tariffs than President James Buchanan, signed in 1861 (Morrill Tariff).

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), agrarian interests in the South were opposed to any protection, while manufacturing interests in the North wanted to maintain it. The war marked the triumph of the protectionists of the industrial states of the North over the free traders of the South. Abraham Lincoln was a protectionist like Henry Clay of the Whig Party, who advocated the "American system" based on infrastructure development and protectionism. In 1847, he declared: "Give us a protective tariff, and we will have the greatest nation on earth". Once elected, Lincoln raised industrial tariffs and after the war, tariffs remained at or above wartime levels. High tariffs were a policy designed to encourage rapid industrialisation and protect the high American wage rates.[15]

The policy from 1860 to 1933 was usually high protective tariffs (apart from 1913–21). After 1890, the tariff on wool did affect an important industry, but otherwise the tariffs were designed to keep American wages high. The conservative Republican tradition, typified by William McKinley was a high tariff, while the Democrats typically called for a lower tariff to help consumers but they always failed until 1913.[21][22] The Republican Party, which is heir to the Whigs, makes protectionism a central theme in its electoral platforms. According to the party, it is right to favour domestic producers and tax foreigners and consumers of imported luxury products. Republicans prioritize the protection function, while the need to provide revenue to the federal budget is only a secondary objective.

In the early 1860s, Europe and the United States pursued completely different trade policies. The 1860s were a period of growing protectionism in the United States, while the European free trade phase lasted from 1860 to 1892. The tariff average rate on imports of manufactured goods was in 1875 from 40% to 50% in the United States against 9% to 12% in continental Europe at the height of free trade.

In 1896, the GOP pledged platform pledged to "renew and emphasize our allegiance to the policy of protection, as the bulwark of American industrial independence, and the foundation of development and prosperity. This true American policy taxes foreign products and encourages home industry. It puts the burden of revenue on foreign goods; it secures the American market for the American producer. It upholds the American standard of wages for the American workingman".[23]

In 1913, following the electoral victory of the Democrats in 1912, there was a significant reduction in the average tariff on manufactured goods from 44% to 25%. However, the First World War rendered this bill ineffective, and new "emergency" tariff legislation was introduced in 1922, after the Republicans returned to power in 1921.[15]

According to economic historian Douglas Irwin, a common myth about United States trade policy is that low tariffs harmed American manufacturers in the early 19th century and then that high tariffs made the United States into a great industrial power in the late 19th century.[24] A review by the Economist of Irwin's 2017 book Clashing over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy notes:[24]

Political dynamics would lead people to see a link between tariffs and the economic cycle that was not there. A boom would generate enough revenue for tariffs to fall, and when the bust came pressure would build to raise them again. By the time that happened, the economy would be recovering, giving the impression that tariff cuts caused the crash and the reverse generated the recovery. Mr Irwin also methodically debunks the idea that protectionism made America a great industrial power, a notion believed by some to offer lessons for developing countries today. As its share of global manufacturing powered from 23% in 1870 to 36% in 1913, the admittedly high tariffs of the time came with a cost, estimated at around 0.5% of GDP in the mid-1870s. In some industries, they might have sped up development by a few years. But American growth during its protectionist period was more to do with its abundant resources and openness to people and ideas.

The economist Ha-Joon Chang, for his part, refutes the idea that the United States has developed and reached the top of the world economic hierarchy by adopting free trade. On the contrary, according to him, they have adopted an interventionist policy to promote and protect their industries through tariffs. It was their protectionist policy that would have allowed the United States to experience the fastest economic growth in the world throughout the 19th century and into the 1920s.[9]

Tariffs and the Great Depression

Most economists hold the opinion that the US Tariff Act did not greatly worsen the great depression:

Milton Friedman held the opinion that the Smoot–Hawley tariff of 1930 did not cause the Great Depression, instead he blamed the lack of sufficient action on the part of the Federal Reserve. Douglas A. Irwin wrote: "most economists, both liberal and conservative, doubt that Smoot–Hawley played much of a role in the subsequent contraction".[25]

Peter Temin, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained that a tariff is an expansionary policy, like a devaluation as it diverts demand from foreign to home producers. He noted that exports were 7 percent of GNP in 1929, they fell by 1.5 percent of 1929 GNP in the next two years and the fall was offset by the increase in domestic demand from tariff. He concluded that contrary the popular argument, contractionary effect of the tariff was small.[26]

William Bernstein wrote: "Between 1929 and 1932, real GDP fell 17 percent worldwide, and by 26 percent in the United States, but most economic historians now believe that only a minuscule part of that huge loss of both world GDP and the United States’ GDP can be ascribed to the tariff wars. .. At the time of Smoot-Hawley's passage, trade volume accounted for only about 9 percent of world economic output. Had all international trade been eliminated, and had no domestic use for the previously exported goods been found, world GDP would have fallen by the same amount — 9 percent. Between 1930 and 1933, worldwide trade volume fell off by one-third to one-half. Depending on how the falloff is measured, this computes to 3 to 5 percent of world GDP, and these losses were partially made up by more expensive domestic goods. Thus, the damage done could not possibly have exceeded 1 or 2 percent of world GDP — nowhere near the 17 percent falloff seen during the Great Depression... The inescapable conclusion: contrary to public perception, Smoot-Hawley did not cause, or even significantly deepen, the Great Depression,"(A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, William Bernstein)[citation needed]

Nobel laureate Maurice Allais argued: 'First, most of the trade contraction occurred between January 1930 and July 1932, before most protectionist measures were introduced, except for the limited measures applied by the United States in the summer of 1930. It was therefore the collapse of international liquidity that caused the contraction of trade[8], not customs tariffs'.[citation needed]


Russia adopted more protectionist trade measures in 2013 than any other country, making it the world leader in protectionism. It alone introduced 20% of protectionist measures worldwide and one-third of measures in the G20 countries. Russia's protectionist policies include tariff measures, import restrictions, sanitary measures, and direct subsidies to local companies. For example, the state supported several economic sectors such as agriculture, space, automotive, electronics, chemistry, and energy.[27][28]


From 2017, as part of the promotion of its "Make in India" programme[29] to stimulate and protect domestic manufacturing industry and to combat current account deficits, India has introduced tariffs on several electronic products and "non-essential items". This concerns items imported from countries such as China and South Korea. For example, India's national solar energy programme favours domestic producers by requiring the use of Indian-made solar cells.[30][31][32]


Armenia, a country located in Western Asia, established its custom service on January 4, 1992, as directed by the Armenian President. On January 2, 2015, Armenia was given access to the Eurasian Customs Union, which is led by the Russian Federation and the EAEU; this resulted in an increased number of import tariffs. Armenia does not currently have export taxes; in addition, it does not declare temporary imports duties and credit on government imports or pursuant to other international assistance imports. [33]

Customs duty

A customs duty or due is the indirect tax levied on the import or export of goods in international trade. In economic sense, a duty is also a kind of consumption tax. A duty levied on goods being imported is referred to as an import duty. Similarly, a duty levied on exports is called an export duty. A tariff, which is actually a list of commodities along with the leviable rate (amount) of customs duty, is popularly referred to as a customs duty.

Calculation of customs duty

Customs duty is calculated on the determination of the assessable value in case of those items for which the duty is levied ad valorem. This is often the transaction value unless a customs officer determines assessable value in accordance with the Harmonized System. For certain items like petroleum and alcohol, customs duty is realized at a specific rate applied to the volume of the import or export consignments.

Harmonized System of Nomenclature

For the purpose of assessment of customs duty, products are given an identification code that has come to be known as the Harmonized System code. This code was developed by the World Customs Organization based in Brussels. A Harmonized System code may be from four to ten digits. For example, 17.03 is the HS code for molasses from the extraction or refining of sugar. However, within 17.03, the number 17.03.90 stands for "Molasses (Excluding Cane Molasses)".

Introduction of Harmonized System code in the 1990s has largely replaced the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC), though SITC remains in use for statistical purposes. In drawing up the national tariff, the revenue departments often specifies the rate of customs duty with reference to the HS code of the product. In some countries and customs unions, 6-digit HS codes are locally extended to 8 digits or 10 digits for further tariff discrimination: for example the European Union uses its 8-digit CN (Combined Nomenclature) and 10-digit TARIC codes.

Customs authority

A customs authority in each country is responsible for collecting taxes on the import into or export of goods out of the country. Normally the customs authority, operating under national law, is authorized to examine cargo in order to ascertain actual description, specification volume or quantity, so that the assessable value and the rate of duty may be correctly determined and applied.


Evasion of customs duties takes place mainly in two ways. In one, the trader under-declares the value so that the assessable value is lower than actual. In a similar vein, a trader can evade customs duty by understatement of quantity or volume of the product of trade. A trader may also evade duty by misrepresenting traded goods, categorizing goods as items which attract lower customs duties. The evasion of customs duty may take place with or without the collaboration of customs officials. Evasion of customs duty does not necessarily constitute smuggling.[citation needed]

Duty-free goods

Many countries allow a traveler to bring goods into the country duty-free. These goods may be bought at ports and airports or sometimes within one country without attracting the usual government taxes and then brought into another country duty-free. Some countries impose allowances which limit the number or value of duty-free items that one person can bring into the country. These restrictions often apply to tobacco, wine, spirits, cosmetics, gifts and souvenirs. Often foreign diplomats and UN officials are entitled to duty-free goods. Duty-free goods are imported and stocked in what is called a bonded warehouse.

Duty calculation for companies in real life

With many methods and regulations, businesses at times struggle to manage the duties. In addition to difficulties in calculations, there are challenges in analyzing duties; and to opt for duty free options like using a bonded warehouse.

Companies use Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to calculate duties automatically to, on the one hand, avoid error-prone manual work on duty regulations and formulas and, on the other hand, manage and analyze historically paid duties. Moreover, ERP software offers an option for customs warehouses to save duty and VAT payments. In addition, duty deferment and suspension can also be taken into consideration.

Economic analysis

Effects of import tariff, which hurts domestic consumers more than domestic producers are helped. Higher prices and lower quantities reduce consumer surplus by areas A+B+C+D, while expanding producer surplus by A and government revenue by C. Areas B and D are dead-weight losses, surplus lost by consumers and overall.[34]
Shows the consumer surplus, producer surplus, government revenue, and deadweight losses after tariff imposition.
General government revenue, in % of GDP, from import taxes. For this data, the variance of GDP per capita with purchasing power parity (PPP) is explained in 38 % by tax revenue.

Neoclassical economic theorists tend to view tariffs as distortions to the free market. Typical analyses find that tariffs tend to benefit domestic producers and government at the expense of consumers, and that the net welfare effects of a tariff on the importing country are negative. Normative judgments often follow from these findings, namely that it may be disadvantageous for a country to artificially shield an industry from world markets and that it might be better to allow a collapse to take place. Opposition to all tariff aims to reduce tariffs and to avoid countries discriminating between differing countries when applying tariffs. The diagrams at right show the costs and benefits of imposing a tariff on a good in the domestic economy.[34]

Imposing an import tariff has the following effects, shown in the first diagram in a hypothetical domestic market for televisions:

The overall change in welfare = Change in Consumer Surplus + Change in Producer Surplus + Change in Government Revenue = (-A-B-C-D) + A + C = -B-D. The final state after imposition of the tariff is indicated in the second diagram, with overall welfare reduced by the areas labeled "societal losses", which correspond to areas B and D in the first diagram. The losses to domestic consumers are greater than the combined benefits to domestic producers and government.[34]

That tariffs overall reduce welfare is not a controversial topic among economists. For example, the University of Chicago surveyed about 40 leading economists in March 2018 asking whether "Imposing new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum will improve Americans'welfare." About two-thirds strongly disagreed with the statement, while one third disagreed. None agreed or strongly agreed. Several commented that such tariffs would help a few Americans at the expense of many.[35] This is consistent with the explanation provided above, which is that losses to domestic consumers outweigh gains to domestic producers and government, by the amount of deadweight losses.[36]

Tariffs are more inefficient than consumption taxes.[37]

Optimal tariff

For economic efficiency, free trade is often the best policy, however levying a tariff is sometimes second best.

A tariff is called an optimal tariff if it is set to maximize the welfare of the country imposing the tariff.[38] It is a tariff derived by the intersection between the trade indifference curve of that country and the offer curve of another country. In this case, the welfare of the other country grows worse simultaneously, thus the policy is a kind of beggar thy neighbor policy. If the offer curve of the other country is a line through the origin point, the original country is in the condition of a small country, so any tariff worsens the welfare of the original country.[39][40]

It is possible to levy a tariff as a political policy choice, and to consider a theoretical optimum tariff rate.[41] However, imposing an optimal tariff will often lead to the foreign country increasing their tariffs as well, leading to a loss of welfare in both countries. When countries impose tariffs on each other, they will reach a position off the contract curve, meaning that both countries' welfare could be increased by reducing tariffs.[42]

Political analysis

The tariff has been used as a political tool to establish an independent nation; for example, the United States Tariff Act of 1789, signed specifically on July 4, was called the "Second Declaration of Independence" by newspapers because it was intended to be the economic means to achieve the political goal of a sovereign and independent United States.[43]

The political impact of tariffs is judged depending on the political perspective; for example the 2002 United States steel tariff imposed a 30% tariff on a variety of imported steel products for a period of three years and American steel producers supported the tariff.[44]

Tariffs can emerge as a political issue prior to an election. In the leadup to the 2007 Australian Federal election, the Australian Labor Party announced it would undertake a review of Australian car tariffs if elected.[45] The Liberal Party made a similar commitment, while independent candidate Nick Xenophon announced his intention to introduce tariff-based legislation as "a matter of urgency".[46]

Unpopular tariffs are known to have ignited social unrest, for example the 1905 meat riots in Chile that developed in protest against tariffs applied to the cattle imports from Argentina.[47][48]

Arguments in favor of tariffs

Protection of infant industry

Postulated in the United States by Alexander Hamilton at the end of the 18th century, by Friedrich List in his 1841 book Das nationale System der politischen Oekonomie and by John Stuart Mill, the argument made in favour of this category of tariffs was this: should a country wish to develop a new economic activity on its soil, it would have to temporarily protect it. In their view, it is legitimate to protect certain activities by customs barriers in order to give them time to grow, to reach a sufficient size and to benefit from economies of scale through increased production and productivity gains. This would allow them to become competitive in order to face international competition. Indeed, a company needs to reach a certain production volume to be profitable in order to compensate for its fixed costs. Without protectionism, foreign products – which are already profitable because of the volume of production already carried out on their soil – would arrive in the country in large quantities at a lower price than local production. The recipient country's nascent industry would quickly disappear. A firm already established in an industry is more efficient because it is more adapted and has greater production capacity. New firms therefore suffer losses due to a lack of competitiveness linked to their 'apprenticeship' or catch-up period. By being protected from this external competition, firms can therefore establish themselves on their domestic market. As a result, they benefit from greater freedom of manoeuvre and greater certainty regarding their profitability and future development. The protectionist phase is therefore a learning period that would allow the least developed countries to acquire general and technical know-how in the fields of industrial production in order to become competitive on international market[49]

According to the economists in favour of protecting industries, free trade would condemn developing countries to being nothing more than exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods. The application of the theory of comparative advantage would lead them to specialize in the production of raw materials and extractive products and prevent them from acquiring an industrial base. Protection of infant industries (e.g. through tariffs on imported products) would therefore be essential for developing countries to industrialize and escape their dependence on the production of raw materials.[9]

Economist Ha-Joon Chang argues that most today's developed countries have pursued policies that are the opposite of free trade and laissez-faire. According to him, when they were developing countries themselves, almost all of them actively used interventionist trade and industrial policies to promote and protect infant industries. Instead, they would have encouraged their domestic industries through tariffs, subsidies and other measures. In his view, Britain and the United States have not reached the top of the global economic hierarchy by adopting free trade. In fact, these two countries would have been among the greatest users of protectionist measures, including tariffs. As for the East Asian countries, he points out that the longest periods of rapid growth in these countries do not coincide with extended phases of free trade, but rather with phases of industrial protection and promotion. Interventionist trade and industrial policies would have played a crucial role in their economic success. These policies would have been similar to those used by Britain in the 18th century and the United States in the 19th century. He considers that infant industry protection policy has generated much better growth performance in the developing world than free trade policies since the 1980s.[9]

In the second half of the 20th century, Nicholas Kaldor takes up similar arguments to allow the conversion of ageing industries.[50] In this case, the aim was to save an activity threatened with extinction by external competition and to safeguard jobs. Protectionism must enable ageing companies to regain their competitiveness in the medium term and, for activities that are due to disappear, it allows the conversion of these activities and jobs.

Protection against dumping

States resorting to protectionism invoke unfair competition or dumping practices:

Free trade and poverty

Sub-Saharan African countries have a lower income per capita in 2003 than 40 years earlier (Ndulu, World Bank, 2007, p. 33).[51] Per capita income increased by 37% between 1960 and 1980 and fell by 9% between 1980 and 2000. Africa's manufacturing sector's share of GDP decreased from 12% in 1980 to 11% in 2013. In the 1970s, Africa accounted for more than 3% of world manufacturing output, and now accounts for 1.5%. In an Op ed article for The Guardian (UK), Ha-Joon Chang argues that these downturns are the result of free trade policies,[52][53] and elsewhere attributes successes in some African countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda to their abandonment of free trade and adoption of a "developmental state model".[53]

The poor countries that have succeeded in achieving strong and sustainable growth are those that have become mercantilists, not free traders: China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan.[54][55][56] Thus, whereas in the 1990s, China and India had the same GDP per capita, China followed a much more mercantilist policy and now has a GDP per capita three times higher than India's.[57] Indeed, a significant part of China's rise on the international trade scene does not come from the supposed benefits of international competition but from the relocations practiced by companies from developed countries. Dani Rodrik points out that it is the countries that have systematically violated the rules of globalisation that have experienced the strongest growth.[58]

The 'dumping' policies of some countries have also largely affected developing countries. Studies on the effects of free trade show that the gains induced by WTO rules for developing countries are very small.[59] This has reduced the gain for these countries from an estimated $539 billion in the 2003 LINKAGE model to $22 billion in the 2005 GTAP model. The 2005 LINKAGE version also reduced gains to 90 billion.[59] As for the "Doha Round", it would have brought in only $4 billion to developing countries (including China...) according to the GTAP model.[59] However, it has been argued that the models used are actually designed to maximize the positive effects of trade liberalization, that they are characterized by the absence of taking into account the loss of income caused by the end of tariff barriers.[60]

Criticism of the theory of comparative advantage

Free trade is based on the theory of comparative advantage. The classical and neoclassical formulations of comparative advantage theory differ in the tools they use but share the same basis and logic. Comparative advantage theory says that market forces lead all factors of production to their best use in the economy. It indicates that international free trade would be beneficial for all participating countries as well as for the world as a whole because they could increase their overall production and consume more by specializing according to their comparative advantages. Goods would become cheaper and available in larger quantities. Moreover, this specialization would not be the result of chance or political intent, but would be automatic. However, according to non-neoclassical economists, the theory is based on assumptions that are neither theoretically nor empirically valid.[61][62]

International mobility of capital and labour

The international immobility of labour and capital is essential to the theory of comparative advantage. Without this, there would be no reason for international free trade to be regulated by comparative advantages. Classical and neoclassical economists all assume that labour and capital do not circulate between nations. At the international level, only the goods produced can move freely, with capital and labour trapped in countries. David Ricardo was aware that the international immobility of labour and capital is an indispensable hypothesis. He devoted half of his explanation of the theory to it in his book. He even explained that if labour and capital could move internationally, then comparative advantages could not determine international trade. Ricardo assumed that the reasons for the immobility of the capital would be:[61][62]

"the fancied or real insecurity of capital, when not under the immediate control of its owner, together with the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connexions, and intrust himself with all his habits fixed, to a strange government and new laws"

Neoclassical economists, for their part, argue that the scale of these movements of workers and capital is negligible. They developed the theory of price compensation by factor that makes these movements superfluous. In practice, however, workers move in large numbers from one country to another. Today, labour migration is truly a global phenomenon. And, with the reduction in transport and communication costs, capital has become increasingly mobile and frequently moves from one country to another. Moreover, the neoclassical assumption that factors are trapped at the national level has no theoretical basis and the assumption of factor price equalisation cannot justify international immobility. Moreover, there is no evidence that factor prices are equal worldwide. Comparative advantages cannot therefore determine the structure of international trade.[61][62]

If they are internationally mobile and the most productive use of factors is in another country, then free trade will lead them to migrate to that country. This will benefit the nation to which they emigrate, but not necessarily the others.


An externality is the term used when the price of a product does not reflect its cost or real economic value. The classic negative externality is environmental degradation, which reduces the value of natural resources without increasing the price of the product that has caused them harm. The classic positive externality is technological encroachment, where one company's invention of a product allows others to copy or build on it, generating wealth that the original company cannot capture. If prices are wrong due to positive or negative externalities, free trade will produce sub-optimal results.[61][62]

For example, goods from a country with lax pollution standards will be too cheap. As a result, its trading partners will import too much. And the exporting country will export too much, concentrating its economy too much in industries that are not as profitable as they seem, ignoring the damage caused by pollution.

On the positive externalities, if an industry generates technological spinoffs for the rest of the economy, then free trade can let that industry be destroyed by foreign competition because the economy ignores its hidden value. Some industries generate new technologies, allow improvements in other industries and stimulate technological advances throughout the economy; losing these industries means losing all industries that would have resulted in the future.[61][62]

Cross-industrial movement of productive resources

Comparative advantage theory deals with the best use of resources and how to put the economy to its best use. But this implies that the resources used to manufacture one product can be used to produce another object. If they cannot, imports will not push the economy into industries better suited to its comparative advantage and will only destroy existing industries.[61][62]

For example, when workers cannot move from one industry to another—usually because they do not have the right skills or do not live in the right place—changes in the economy's comparative advantage will not shift them to a more appropriate industry, but rather to unemployment or precarious and unproductive jobs.[61][62]

Static vs. dynamic gains via international trade

Comparative advantage theory allows for a "static" and not a "dynamic" analysis of the economy. That is, it examines the facts at a single point in time and determines the best response to those facts at that point in time, given our productivity in various industries. But when it comes to long-term growth, it says nothing about how the facts can change tomorrow and how they can be changed in someone's favour. It does not indicate how best to transform factors of production into more productive factors in the future.[61][62]

According to theory, the only advantage of international trade is that goods become cheaper and available in larger quantities. Improving the static efficiency of existing resources would therefore be the only advantage of international trade. And the neoclassical formulation assumes that the factors of production are given only exogenously. Exogenous changes can come from population growth, industrial policies, the rate of capital accumulation (propensity for security) and technological inventions, among others. Dynamic developments endogenous to trade such as economic growth are not integrated into Ricardo's theory. And this is not affected by what is called "dynamic comparative advantage". In these models, comparative advantages develop and change over time, but this change is not the result of trade itself, but of a change in exogenous factors.[61][62]

However, the world, and in particular the industrialized countries, are characterized by dynamic gains endogenous to trade, such as technological growth that has led to an increase in the standard of living and wealth of the industrialized world. In addition, dynamic gains are more important than static gains.

Balanced trade and adjustment mechanisms

A crucial assumption in both the classical and neoclassical formulation of comparative advantage theory is that trade is balanced, which means that the value of imports is equal to the value of each country's exports. The volume of trade may change, but international trade will always be balanced at least after a certain adjustment period. The balance of trade is essential for theory because the resulting adjustment mechanism is responsible for transforming the comparative advantages of production costs into absolute price advantages. And this is necessary because it is the absolute price differences that determine the international flow of goods. Since consumers buy a good from the one who sells it cheapest, comparative advantages in terms of production costs must be transformed into absolute price advantages. In the case of floating exchange rates, it is the exchange rate adjustment mechanism that is responsible for this transformation of comparative advantages into absolute price advantages. In the case of fixed exchange rates, neoclassical theory suggests that trade is balanced by changes in wage rates.[61][62]

So if trade were not balanced in itself and if there were no adjustment mechanism, there would be no reason to achieve a comparative advantage. However, trade imbalances are the norm and balanced trade is in practice only an exception. In addition, financial crises such as the Asian crisis of the 1990s show that balance of payments imbalances are rarely benign and do not self-regulate. There is no adjustment mechanism in practice. Comparative advantages do not turn into price differences and therefore cannot explain international trade flows.[61][62]

Thus, theory can very easily recommend a trade policy that gives us the highest possible standard of living in the short term but none in the long term. This is what happens when a nation runs a trade deficit, which necessarily means that it goes into debt with foreigners or sells its existing assets to them. Thus, the nation applies a frenzy of consumption in the short term followed by a long-term decline.

International trade as bartering

The assumption that trade will always be balanced is a corollary of the fact that trade is understood as barter. The definition of international trade as barter trade is the basis for the assumption of balanced trade. Ricardo insists that international trade takes place as if it were purely a barter trade, a presumption that is maintained by subsequent classical and neoclassical economists. The quantity of money theory, which Ricardo uses, assumes that money is neutral and neglects the velocity of a currency. Money has only one function in international trade, namely as a means of exchange to facilitate trade.[61][62]

In practice, however, the velocity of circulation is not constant and the quantity of money is not neutral for the real economy. A capitalist world is not characterized by a barter economy but by a market economy. The main difference in the context of international trade is that sales and purchases no longer necessarily have to coincide. The seller is not necessarily obliged to buy immediately. Thus, money is not only a means of exchange. It is above all a means of payment and is also used to store value, settle debts and transfer wealth. Thus, unlike the barter hypothesis of the comparative advantage theory, money is not a commodity like any other. Rather, it is of practical importance to specifically own money rather than any commodity. And money as a store of value in a world of uncertainty has a significant influence on the motives and decisions of wealth holders and producers.[61][62]

Using labour and capital to their full potential

Ricardo and later classical economists assume that labour tends towards full employment and that capital is always fully used in a liberalized economy, because no capital owner will leave its capital unused but will always seek to make a profit from it. That there is no limit to the use of capital is a consequence of Jean-Baptiste Say's law, which presumes that production is limited only by resources and is also adopted by neoclassical economists.[61][62]

From a theoretical point of view, comparative advantage theory must assume that labour or capital is used to its full potential and that resources limit production. There are two reasons for this: the realization of gains through international trade and the adjustment mechanism. In addition, this assumption is necessary for the concept of opportunity costs. If unemployment (or underutilized resources) exists, there are no opportunity costs, because the production of one good can be increased without reducing the production of another good. Since comparative advantages are determined by opportunity costs in the neoclassical formulation, these cannot be calculated and this formulation would lose its logical basis.[61][62]

If a country's resources were not fully utilized, production and consumption could be increased at the national level without participating in international trade. The whole raison d'être of international trade would disappear, as would the possible gains. In this case, a State could even earn more by refraining from participating in international trade and stimulating domestic production, as this would allow it to employ more labour and capital and increase national income. Moreover, any adjustment mechanism underlying the theory no longer works if unemployment exists.[61][62]

In practice, however, the world is characterised by unemployment. Unemployment and underemployment of capital and labour are not a short-term phenomenon, but it is common and widespread. Unemployment and untapped resources are more the rule than the exception.

See also


  1. ^ See P.Krugman, «The Narrow and Broad Arguments for Free Trade», American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 83(3), 1993 ; and P.Krugman, Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
  2. ^ a b "Free Trade". IGM Forum. March 13, 2012.
  3. ^ "Import Duties". IGM Forum. October 4, 2016.
  4. ^ N. Gregory Mankiw, Economists Actually Agree on This: The Wisdom of Free Trade, New York Times (April 24, 2015): "Economists are famous for disagreeing with one another.... But economists reach near unanimity on some topics, including international trade."
  5. ^ William Poole, Free Trade: Why Are Economists and Noneconomists So Far Apart, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, September/October 2004, 86(5), pp. 1: "most observers agree that '[t]he consensus among mainstream economists on the desirability of free trade remains almost universal.'"
  6. ^ "Trade Within Europe | IGM Forum". www.igmchicago.org. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
  7. ^ The Online Etymology Dictionary: tariff. The 2nd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary gives the same etymology, with a reference dating to 1591.
  8. ^ Burke, Susan; Bairoch, Paul (June 1989). "Chapter I - European trade policy, 1815–1914". In Mathias, Peter; Pollard, Sidney (eds.). The Industrial Economies: The Development of Economic and Social Policies. The Cambridge Economic History of Europe from the Decline of the Roman Empire. Volume 8. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–160. doi:10.1017/chol9780521225045.002. ISBN 978-0521225045.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ha-Joon Chang. Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective. Cite error: The named reference "Chang" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  10. ^ Hugh Montgomery; Philip George Cambray (1906). A Dictionary of Political Phrases and Allusions : With a short bibliography. S. Sonnenschein. p. 33.
  11. ^ John C. Miller, The Federalist Era: 1789-1801 (1960), pp 14-15,
  12. ^ Percy Ashley, "Modern Tariff History: Germany, United States, France (3rd ed. 1920) pp 133-265.
  13. ^ Robert V. Remini, "Martin Van Buren and the Tariff of Abominations." American Historical Review 63.4 (1958): 903-917.
  14. ^ a b c Chang, Ha-Joon; Gershman, John (2003-12-30). "Kicking Away the Ladder: The "Real" History of Free Trade". ips-dc.org. Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  15. ^ a b c d e https://www.cepal.org/prensa/noticias/comunicados/8/7598/chang.pdf
  16. ^ Dorfman & Tugwell (1960). Early American Policy.
  17. ^ Bairoch. Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes.
  18. ^ Thomas C. Cochran, William Miller (1942). The Age of Enterprise: A Social History of Industrial America.
  19. ^ R. Luthin (1944). Abraham Lincoln and the Tariff.
  20. ^ William K. Bolt, Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America (2017) covers 1816 to 1861.
  21. ^ F.W. Taussig,. The Tariff History of the United States. 8th edition (1931); 5th edition 1910 is online
  22. ^ Robert W. Merry, President McKinley: Architect of the American Century (2017) pp 70-83.
  23. ^ http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29629
  24. ^ a b "A historian on the myths of American trade". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-11-26.
  25. ^ Irwin, Douglas A. (2011). Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression. p. 116. ISBN 9781400888429.
  26. ^ Temin, P. (1989). Lessons from the Great Depression. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262261197.
  27. ^ "Russia Leads the World in Protectionist Trade Measures, Study Says". The Moscow Times. 10 January 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  28. ^ "Russia was most protectionist nation in 2013: study". Reuters. 30 December 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  29. ^ "Home - Make In India". www.makeinindia.com. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  30. ^ "Import duty hike on consumer durables, 'Make in India' drive to get a boost". www.indiainfoline.com. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  31. ^ "India doubles import tax on textile products, may hit China". Reuters. 7 August 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2019 – via www.reuters.com.
  32. ^ "India to raise import tariffs on electronic and communication items". Reuters. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 14 April 2019 – via www.reuters.com.
  33. ^ "Armenia - Import Tariffs". export.gov. 2015-01-02. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  34. ^ a b c Krugman, Paul and, Wells, Robin (2005). Microeconomics. Worth. ISBN 978-0-7167-5229-5.
  35. ^ "Steel and Aluminum Tariffs". www.igmchicago.org. March 12, 2018. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  36. ^ Krugman & Wells (2005).
  37. ^ Diamond, Peter A.; Mirrlees, James A. (1971). "Optimal Taxation and Public Production I: Production Efficiency". The American Economic Review. 61 (1): 8–27. JSTOR 1910538.
  38. ^ El-Agraa (1984), p. 26.
  39. ^ Almost all real-life examples may be in this case.
  40. ^ El-Agraa (1984), pp. 8–35 (in 8–45 by the Japanese ed.), Chap.2 保護:全般的な背景.
  41. ^ El-Agraa (1984), p. 76 (by the Japanese ed.), Chap. 5 「雇用-関税」命題の政治経済学的評価.
  42. ^ El-Agraa (1984), p. 93 (in 83-94 by the Japanese ed.), Chap. 6 最適関税、報復および国際協力.
  43. ^ "Thomas Jefferson – under George Washington by America's History". americashistory.org. Archived from the original on 2012-07-08.
  44. ^ "Behind the Steel-Tariff Curtain". Business Week Online. March 8, 2002.
  45. ^ Sid Marris and Dennis Shanahan (November 9, 2007). "PM rulses out more help for car firms". The Australian. Archived from the original on 2007-11-09. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
  46. ^ "Candidate wants car tariff cuts halted". theage.com.au. Melbourne. October 29, 2007.
  47. ^ (in Spanish) Primeros movimientos sociales chileno (1890–1920). Memoria Chilena.
  48. ^ Benjamin S. 1997. Meat and Strength: The Moral Economy of a Chilean Food Riot. Cultural Anthropology, 12, pp. 234–268.
  49. ^ https://www.britannica.com/topic/international-trade/Arguments-for-and-against-interference
  50. ^ Graham Dunkley (4 April 2013). Free Trade: Myth, Reality and Alternatives. ISBN 9781848136755.
  51. ^ "Microsoft Word - Front Matter_B&W 11-1-06.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  52. ^ Chang, Ha-Joon (15 July 2012). "Africa needs an active industrial policy to sustain its growth - Ha-Joon Chang". Retrieved 14 April 2019 – via www.theguardian.com.
  53. ^ a b Reporter, Times (2016-08-13). "Why does Africa struggle to industrialise its economies? | The New Times | Rwanda". The New Times. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  54. ^ "Macroeconomic effects of Chinese mercantilism". New York Times. 31 December 2009.
  55. ^ "U.S. tech group urges global action against Chinese "mercantilism"". 16 March 2017 – via www.reuters.com.
  56. ^ Pham, Peter. "Why Do All Roads Lead To China?". Forbes.
  57. ^ "Learning from Chinese Mercantilism". PIIE. 2 March 2016.
  58. ^ Professor Dani Rodik (June 2002). "After Neoliberalism, What?" (PDF).
  59. ^ a b c Ackerman, John Frederick (14 April 2019). "The Shrinking Gains from Trade : A Critical Assessment of Doha Round Projections". www.semanticscholar.org. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  60. ^ Drusilla K. Brown, Alan V. Deardorff and Robert M. Stern (December 8, 2002). "Computational Analysis of Multilateral Trade Liberalization in the Uruguay Round and Doha Development Round" (PDF).
  61. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Schumacher, Reinhard (2012). Free Trade and Absolute and Comparative Advantage (Thesis). University of Potsdam.
  62. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Maurin, Max (14 April 2019). "Les fondements non neoclassiques du protectionnisme". Retrieved 14 April 2019 – via Library Catalog - www.sudoc.abes.fr.