Category: International Trade Sub-category: Export Import Procedures
Document type: article


Customs duties on merchandise imports are called tariffs. Tariffs give a price advantage to locally-produced goods over similar goods which are imported, and they raise revenues for governments. One result of the Uruguay Round was countries’ commitments to cut tariffs and to “bind” their customs duty rates to levels which are difficult to raise. The current negotiations under the Doha Agenda continue efforts in that direction in agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

The bulkiest results of Uruguay Round are the 22,500 pages listing individual countries’ commitments on specific categories of goods and services. These include commitments to cut and “bind” their customs duty rates on imports of goods. In some cases, tariffs are being cut to zero. There is also a significant increase in the number of “bound” tariffs — duty rates that are committed in the WTO and are difficult to raise.

Tariff cuts

Developed countries’ tariff cuts were for the most part phased in over five years from 1 January 1995. The result is a 40% cut in their tariffs on industrial products, from an average of 6.3% to 3.8%. The value of imported industrial products that receive duty-free treatment in developed countries will jump from 20% to 44%.

There will also be fewer products charged high duty rates. The proportion of imports into developed countries from all sources facing tariffs rates of more than 15% will decline from 7% to 5%. The proportion of developing country exports facing tariffs above 15% in industrial countries will fall from 9% to 5%.

The Uruguay Round package has been improved. On 26 March 1997, 40 countries accounting for more than 92% of world trade in information technology products, agreed to eliminate import duties and other charges on these products by 2000 (by 2005 in a handful of cases). As with other tariff commitments, each participating country is applying its commitments equally to exports from all WTO members (i.e. on a most-favoured-nation basis), even from members that did not make commitments.

More bindings

Developed countries increased the number of imports whose tariff rates are “bound” (committed and difficult to increase) from 78% of product lines to 99%. For developing countries, the increase was considerable: from 21% to 73%. Economies in transition from central planning increased their bindings from 73% to 98%. This all means a substantially higher degree of market security for traders and investors.

And agriculture

Tariffs on all agricultural products are now bound. Almost all import restrictions that did not take the form of tariffs, such as quotas, have been converted to tariffs — a process known as “tariffication”. This has made markets substantially more predictable for agriculture.