Tariffs and Non-Tariffs Barriers in International Trade

Trade barriers are restrictions imposed on movement of goods between countries. Trade barriers are imposed not only on imports but also on exports. The trade barriers can be broadly divided into two broad groups: (a) Tariff Barriers, and (b) Non-tariff Barriers.


Tariff is a customs duty or a tax on products that move across borders. The most important of tariff barriers is the customs duty imposed by the importing country. A tax may also be imposed by the exporting country on its exports. However, governments rarely impose tariff on exports, because, countries want to sell as much as possible to other countries. The main important tariff barriers are as follows:

(1) Specific Duty: Specific duty is based on the physical characteristics of goods. When a fixed sum of money, keeping in view the weight or measurement of a commodity, is levied as tariff, it is known as specific duty.

For instance, a fixed sum of import duty may be levied on the import of every barrel of oil, irrespective of quality and value. It discourages cheap imports. Specific duties are easy to administer as they do not involve the problem of determining the value of imported goods. However, a specific duty cannot be levied on certain articles like works of art. For instance, a painting cannot be taxed on the basis of its weight and size.

(2) Ad valorem Duty: These duties are imposed “according to value.” When a fixed percent of value of a commodity is added as a tariff it is known as ad valorem duty. It ignores the consideration of weight, size or volume of commodity.

The imposition of ad valorem duty is more justified in case of those goods whose values cannot be determined on the basis of their physical and chemical characteristics, such as costly works of art, rare manuscripts, etc. In practice, this type of duty is mostly levied on majority of items.

(3) Combined or Compound Duty: It is a combination of the specific duty and ad valorem duty on a single product. For instance, there can be a combined duty when 10% of value (ad valorem) and Re 1/- on every meter of cloth is charged as duty. Thus, in this case, both duties are charged together.

(4) Sliding Scale Duty: The import duties which vary with the prices of commodities are called sliding scale duties. Historically, these duties are confined to agricultural products, as their prices frequently vary, mostly due to natural factors. These are also called as seasonal duties.

(5) Countervailing Duty: It is imposed on certain imports where products are subsidised by exporting governments. As a result of government subsidy, imports become more cheaper than domestic goods. To nullify the effect of subsidy, this duty is imposed in addition to normal duties.

(6) Revenue Tariff: A tariff which is designed to provide revenue to the home government is called revenue tariff. Generally, a tariff is imposed with a view of earning revenue by imposing duty on consumer goods, particularly, on luxury goods whose demand from the rich is inelastic.

(7) Anti-dumping Duty: At times, exporters attempt to capture foreign markets by selling goods at rock-bottom prices, such practice is called dumping. As a result of dumping, domestic industries find it difficult to compete with imported goods. To offset anti-dumping effects, duties are levied in addition to normal duties.

(8) Protective Tariff: In order to protect domestic industries from stiff competition of imported goods, protective tariff is levied on imports. Normally, a very high duty is imposed, so as to either discourage imports or to make the imports more expensive as that of domestic products.

Note: Tariffs can be also levied on the basis of international relations. This includes single column duty, double column duty and triple column duty.


A non tariff barrier is any barrier other than a tariff, that raises an obstacle to free flow of goods in overseas markets. Non-tariff barriers, do not affect the price of the imported goods, but only the quantity of imports. Some of the important non-tariff barriers are as follows:

(1) Quota System: Under this system, a country may fix in advance, the limit of import quantity of a commodity that would be permitted for import from various countries during a given period. The quota system can be divided into the following categories:

(a) Tariff/Customs Quota    (b) Unilateral Quota

(c) Bilateral Quota               (d) Multilateral Quota

  • Tariff/Customs Quota: Certain specified quantity of imports is allowed at duty free or at a reduced rate of import duty. Additional imports beyond the specified quantity are permitted only at increased rate of duty. A tariff quota, therefore, combines the features of a tariff and an import quota.
  • Unilateral Quota: The total import quantity is fixed without prior consultations with the exporting countries.
  • Bilateral Quota: In this case, quotas are fixed after negotiations between the quota fixing importing country and the exporting country.
  • Multilateral Quota: A group of countries can come together and fix quotas for exports as well as imports for each country.

(2) Product Standards: Most developed countries impose product standards for imported items. If the imported items do not conform to established standards, the imports are not allowed. For instance, the pharmaceutical products must conform to pharmacopoeia standards.

(3) Domestic Content Requirements: Governments impose domestic content requirements to boost domestic production. For instance, in the US bailout package (to bailout General Motors and other organisations), the US Govt. introduced ‘Buy American Clause’ which means the US firms that receive bailout package must purchase domestic content rather than import from elsewhere.

(4) Product Labelling: Certain nations insist on specific labeling of the products. For instance, the European Union insists on product labeling in major languages spoken in EU. Such formalities create problems for exporters.

(5) Packaging Requirements: Certain nations insist on particular type of packaging materials. For instance, EU insists on recyclable packing materials, otherwise, the imported goods may be rejected.

(6) Consular Formalities: A number of importing countries demand that the shipping documents should include consular invoice certified by their consulate stationed in the exporting country.

(7) State Trading: In some countries like India, certain items are imported or exported only through canalising agencies like MMTC. Individual importers or exporters are not allowed to import or export canalised items directly on their own.

(8) Preferential Arrangements: Some nations form trading groups for preferential arrangements in respect of trade amongst themselves. Imports from member countries are given preferences, whereas, those from other countries are subject to various tariffs and other regulations.

(9) Foreign Exchange Regulations: The importer has to ensure that adequate foreign exchange is available for import of goods by obtaining a clearance from exchange control authorities prior to the concluding of contract with the supplier.

(10) Other Non-Tariff Barriers: There are a number of other non – tariff barriers such as health and safety regulations, technical formalities, environmental regulations, embargoes, etc.

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