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(also tariffs), fees collected by the state on goods, property, and valuables that are allowed across the state border under the supervision of the customs office. Customs duties originated as a payment for services provided to merchants, including the use of port facilities, warehouses, and other commercial premises and the weighing of goods. Under capitalism, customs duties have become essentially a variety of indirect tax and serve to protect domestic trade and certain sectors of the national economy from competition by foreign goods.
Customs duties are subdivided into export, transit, and import duties. Export duties became common in Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries. They were mainly important for fiscal reasons, serving as a source of income for the state treasury and budget. In the late 19th century they largely disappeared from the foreign trade practice of the capitalist countries because they impeded the formation and growth of national industry and export trade. Transit duties were universally employed by European countries in the 16th through 18th centuries but had lost their significance by the 20th century. At present, import duties predominate. They are used by monopoly capital as an implement in trade wars, dumping, plundering economically dependent countries, and encouraging the development of particular sectors of national industry. To strengthen their economic and political influence, the imperialist powers have introduced more flexible customs duties since World War II and have proclaimed a “liberalization” of customs, that is, a decrease in the average rate.
Countries that have been liberated from the colonial yoke attempt to use customs duties in the interests of developing and strengthening their national economies. They use customs duties as a means of protecting domestic markets from competition by foreign goods and as an important source of currency for their national budgets. Thus, in the early 1970’s, customs tax receipts constituted more than 50 percent of the total revenues in the budgets of Ghana, Dahomey, Cameroon, and the Sudan; 40 percent in Egypt, Mali, and Nigeria; 30 percent in Afghanistan and Kenya; 20 percent in Burma and Cambodia; and about 20 percent in India, Pakistan, and Iran.
Customs duties are collected at rates established by the customs tariff of the particular country. Depending upon the tariff structure, a distinction is made between differential, protective, and preferential tariffs. (For definitions, see; ; and .)
Customs duties are subdivided according to the method of charging into ad valorem and specific duties. Ad valorem duties are calculated as a fixed percentage of the value of the import article, while specific duties are fixed charges per article, unit, or weight of the commodity. Specific duties may also be based on the size of the article. Ad valorem duties are used in the countries of the European Economic Community (Common Market). Specific duties are employed in the United States, Canada, Austria, Norway, and Switzerland. Customs duties that are computed by a combination of both methods are called compound, or cumulative, and are found in the tariffs of the United States. In some countries, customs legislation provides for computing several duties, called alternative duties, on the same commodity.
In the USSR and other socialist countries, customs duties are used as an auxiliary means of regulating foreign trade, establishing and extending mutually advantageous relations with the capitalist and developing countries, and protecting the socialist economy from the surges of the world capitalist market. Duties serve as an intermediary link between domestic and international economic circulation.
During the period of restoration of the national economy in the USSR after the Civil War of 1918–20, customs duties helped stimulate industrial development and operated as a source of funds to replenish the state budget. During the 1930’s and 1940’s they were used as an active means of fighting imperialist discrimination in international trade. After the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 and particularly in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the economic potential and international prestige of the USSR had risen significantly, the volume and market structure of Soviet foreign trade expanded, and a new customs tariff was instituted (1961).
Export duties are not generally collected in the USSR, with the exception of duties on objects of historical interest and on works of art, which may be exported by special authorization of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR. In concert with the Ministry of Finances of the USSR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, the Ministry of Foreign Trade of the USSR is authorized to establish customs rates for goods entering the USSR by mail and for articles transported as baggage or hand-carried by persons entering the USSR when such goods are subject to customs duties. These rates are based on the existing tariff and on the retail prices of corresponding goods in the USSR.
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L. I. TUL’CHINSKII