Customs duty

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Pictogram customs in tourist traffic
Zollkreuzer Glückstadt in front of the German Customs Museum in Hamburg
Uniform of a Roman customs guard ( Beneficarius ) - reconstruction

As Customs (Pl .: duties derived from the Late Latin , like meaning teloneum ) refers to a levy that the physical introduction of goods through a customs border is required.

Customs duties are taxes in the sense of the tax code . Customs should not be confused with import sales tax (which corresponds to sales tax, which is also added to every net price in Germany). Customs is an instrument of foreign trade policy . A historical form is the road toll . The corresponding job title is customs officer .

Today, tariffs are mostly viewed critically, as they hinder international trade in goods and lead to a loss of welfare within the framework of the theory of comparative cost advantages . As part of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade , tariffs have been significantly reduced worldwide since 1947 and have lost their significance. However, according to the GATT, tariffs are preferable to all other measures, such as quantity restrictions (quotas) or subsidies . Customs duties have the advantage that the economic impact is relatively easy to measure. According to the principle of most-favored nation treatment , all advantages, concessions, privileges or exemptions that a state grants for a product must be granted immediately and unconditionally for all similar products from all countries. When determining the level of duties, a distinction must not be made between trading partners, but only between goods. However, exceptions are possible, for example in relation to developing countries or within a customs union .

In particular, the purpose of income (fiscal or financial duty) has faded into the background. Today, the focus is on the role of customs to protect selected domestic economic sectors (protective tariffs ) . The educational tariff is intended to protect new industries in a country through a tariff, whereby the tariff is to be reduced as the industries become more competitive. As an anti-dumping or anti-subsidy measure , punitive duties (retention duties) can also be levied.

There is also a differentiation according to the assessment base. Specific duties are levied per unit of a good, for example according to mass, volume or number of items. Ad valorem duties are a percentage of the price of the goods, mixing duties include both instruments.

In countries with a high proportion of an informal economy (many underdeveloped countries), the state collects fewer traffic and consumption taxes and, in proportion, more customs revenues. A reduction in tariffs therefore weakens tax revenues and the financial strength of these countries, leads to increased imports of goods and a negative foreign trade balance . When importing (mainly) agricultural products without protective tariffs, local small-scale producers are in competition with producers from industrialized countries, whose products (such as those from the EU and the USA) are often additionally subsidized.


Carl Spitzweg : Customs Revision (Papal Customs Guard), around 1880

Customs have existed for a very long time, in ancient times and in the Middle Ages they were usually levied in the form of escort duties - comparable to a toll - whereby the emperor lost more and more sovereign rights to territorial lords (and thus the individual cities). In the age of mercantilism , tariffs were used specifically as an economic policy measure to protect the balance of payments and domestic producers. Prohibitive tariffs should prevent the importation of foreign products at all, educational tariffs promote the development of one's own industry and protective tariffs protect it from foreign competitors (who produce cheaper).

Since 1947, tariffs have been significantly reduced worldwide under the GATT . Since 1995, this has been done within the framework of the World Trade Organization .

Import, transit and export duties


TIR board , for example on a truck

A distinction is made between import (or import ), transit (or transit ) and export (or export ) customs duties, depending on the shipment of the goods. In most cases the term customs means an import duty . These tariffs are now the most important. Through them, a state gains foreign exchange (financial tariff) or can protect domestic commercial enterprises from foreign competition (protective tariff).

According to Art. V: 3 GATT, transit duties are not permitted. In order to facilitate through traffic, trucks that only pass through a country without exporting anything to that country carry the TIR mark and are sealed . This does not apply to primary or raw products that are brought into an economic area, processed there and then re-imported into the original economic area ( processing traffic ).

Export duties are seldom levied because it is usually in a country's interest to sell goods abroad and thereby generate income. Export duties make the export of goods more expensive and thus reduce it. However , there are reasons, especially for developing countries , to impose export duties:

  • they give the state a share of the revenue (fiscal reasons) if the exported goods can be sold on the world market despite customs duties (e.g. rare raw materials ),
  • they prevent urgently needed scarce goods (shortage goods) from being exported instead of being sold on the domestic market (e.g. food ),
  • they can defuse trade disputes and possibly avert the imposition of import duties by another country (e.g. textiles ).

The opposite of export tariffs are export subsidies .

Collection of import duties in Germany

Sign 392 ( customs office ) from the German road traffic regulations

Customs duties are levied by the customs authorities of a state. The customs offices can be found at the central hubs of goods traffic. Most of these customs offices are stationary, e.g. B. in ports, airports, train stations or border crossings. In addition, the customs administration is also active on the move through the KEV and KEG (traffic control units and border control units), for example on motorways and interurban roads.

The import procedure is divided into the following steps:

  1. Bringing the goods into the country (the duty on customs roads must be observed)
  2. Presentation of the goods
  3. Entry summary declaration (ENS) of goods
  4. Customs declaration
    1. Examination and acceptance of the customs declaration
    2. possibly inspection of the goods (target: 5 percent of the goods)
  5. Payment of import duties (customs duties, import sales tax , excise duties, etc.)
  6. Surrender of the goods

Goods that are recognized as subject to duty or that cannot be conclusively assessed are taken into custody by customs. The recipient or an authorized representative must provide the customs authorities with the requested documents and, if necessary, make the customs payment in order to receive the goods.

An authorized representative can e.g. B. be the Deutsche Post (corresponding order from the recipient / sender required).

If no authorized representative has been specified, the recipient must carry out the customs processing, which is known as self- customs clearance . Goods delivered by post can be provided with a "self-declaration" label by the customs authorities and must then be handed over by the shipping company to the nearest customs office to the recipient. The recipient must then be informed by the “notification of the receipt of a consignment with third-country goods” (green card) by the shipping company. The recipient must then provide the information / documents specified in “Notice of customs handling of a mail item”.

In Germany and the EU, customs clearance is possible at inland customs offices, whereas Switzerland only knows customs clearance at the border, i.e. H. all freight traffic must be treated by customs at the border.

Determination of the customs height

Specific inch (weight inch)

Specific duties relate to a certain number, quantity or nature of goods, for example 2 euro inches per T-shirt, 3 euro inches per green and 4 euro inches per red shirt. Specific tariffs are mainly used as levies in the field of market regulation law.

The Switzerland used as the sole trading nation until today the system of specific rates of duty. The gross weight of the goods is mainly used as a basis for assessment, whereby loading aids such as reusable pallets or containers are not taken into account. In addition, the number of liters (wine), the number of items (bicycles), the length in meters (cinematographic films) and the number of units used (cattle semen) are used to determine the import duty. When importing processed agricultural products from the European Union , the import duties are determined based on the net weight of the imported products.

Ad valorem duty

Ad valorem duties only relate to the customs value of goods (lat. "Ad valorem": of the value ). The EU customs duties are calculated using a duty rate based on the customs value. The respective duty of a commodity is short-lived and is based on the imports and exports this group according to the List for the trade statistics of the Federal Statistical Office . Customs must keep the balance between imports and exports of every product and set itself the goal of increasing the value of a product to the value of this product in the customs union. Customs rates are therefore subject to constant ups and downs. In this respect, levies cannot be determined with absolute certainty before the day of electronic entry in the customs clearance system. The tariff rates are recorded in the TARIC customs tariff information pool and can be viewed on the Internet. A German customs office charges z. B. for import

  • a T-shirt (T-shirts and undershirts, knitted or crocheted) a duty rate of 12% (as of June 18, 2009)
  • DVDs from the USA worth 92 euros have a duty rate of 3.5% (if you add the import sales tax , which is also due , this results in an effective rate of 23.165% on the import value) (status: end of 2005)

Ad valorem tariffs are the tariffs used today within the European Union.

In the European Union there are value limits below which no customs duties are levied. They vary depending on the type of shipment (Art. 27 and 28 of Regulation (EEC) No. 918/83 (PDF) ). If the total value per shipment does not exceed 150 euros and does not contain any alcoholic products, perfumes, eau de toilettes, tobacco, tobacco products or coffee, the EU customs authorities do not charge any import duties on a shipment. It should be noted, however, that transport costs, for example, are to be added proportionately to the value of the goods; thus the assessment basis (customs value) is the value of the goods + proportionate transport costs + possibly insurance costs. Before December 1, 2008, the value limit was only 22 euros. However, despite the increase in the duty-free amount, import sales tax from 22 euros or more must still be paid: the term “duty-free” can not generally be equated with “duty-free”.

Due to trade policy measures, opportunities are offered by the EU in terms of quantity and / or time to obtain reductions in customs duties. A distinction is made here between the terms tariff quota and tariff ceiling. In the case of a tariff quota, it is immediately invalid after it has been exhausted, the normal tariff rate is relevant again. In contrast, in the case of a tariff ceiling, the tariff rate must be reinstated after it has been exhausted by a regulation.

When importing market regulation goods (non-Annex I goods), so-called agricultural components (EA = Éléments agricoles; agricultural components) may also be levied.

Purpose of tariffs

Fiscal or financial tariff

Fiscal tariffs are called tariffs that are levied to generate government revenue. In the European Union, the EU is entitled to this income directly and must be paid by the collecting Member States. For some developing countries, fiscal tariffs on imported goods are a relatively easy way of obtaining foreign currency and are set accordingly high.

Prohibitive duty

A prohibitive tariff is a duty that is high enough to make the import of products so uneconomical for foreign producers that it comes to a complete standstill. In fact, it works like an import ban .

Protective tariff

Customs duties are also levied with the intention of protecting domestic production from favorable foreign competition ( protectionism ). They are also known as tariff trade barriers . Market access for foreign suppliers is made more difficult by a protective tariff (sometimes also called special tariff), as the goods become more expensive. In relative terms, this makes domestic production cheaper. According to EU regulations, regular protective tariffs ( safeguards ) may be levied without evidence of dumping or subsidy allegations if imports increase unexpectedly and cause serious damage to domestic manufacturers of comparable goods. The damage must be more serious than required by anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs. A special form of these import duties are the levies within the framework of the various EC market regulations for agricultural products.

Export duty

If the world market prices for a commodity that is scarce in the domestic market economy are higher than the prices in the domestic market economy itself, export taxes are also levied in order to make the export of this commodity less attractive. The level and scope of such duties are strictly regulated in the WTO .

Anti-dumping duty

Anti-dumping duties are short-term protective measures to ward off market imbalances caused by subsidized imported goods from third countries . As a rule, they are linked to the fact that the customs value falls below a certain value upon import. The establishment of anti-dumping duties is strictly regulated within the WTO ; however, no effective protection is provided in the agricultural sector - see agricultural  dumping .

Retaliation duty (retaliation duty)

A duty that is introduced to compensate for corresponding import restrictions in another country. Taken in isolation, customs have a welfare-improving effect at the expense of the other country. But it can trigger a tariff war with reciprocal tariff increases.

Educational duty

A special form of protective tariff is the educational tariff. The background is that with complete free trade between developed and underdeveloped states, the international division of labor leads to underdeveloped states specializing in technically undemanding production. With the temporary measure of the educational tariff, technologically inferior (underdeveloped) states protect their domestic producers from foreign competitors. The purpose of the measure is to develop productive forces, in particular technological progress, entrepreneurship and the modernization of the capital stock. The term goes back to Friedrich List , and John Stuart Mill developed a similar concept .

The educational tariff is intended to give domestic companies the opportunity to adapt their production to world market standards. In a transitional phase in which the educational tariff is levied, the national producers are to be relieved of international competitive pressure so that they can further develop technologically, improve production conditions and reduce production costs. After this transition period, the educational tariff should be reduced and domestic production should be competitive on the world market. In general, educational tariffs require a sufficiently large internal market on which the tariff is effective.

The idea of ​​the educational tariff is widely recognized, but there are considerable problems in its practical application. So it cannot be predicted whether an industry will need a protective tariff and whether it will really be competitive on the world market after a “closed season”. Entrepreneurs in most countries also have an influence on politics and will always endeavor to maintain such tariffs on their products for as long as possible. In sum, such a tariff can only bring about a national economic advantage over the world market if the loss of welfare caused by the introduction of the tariff is overcompensated for by an increase in welfare after the tariff has been removed.

Optimal inch

If the demand of a large economy for certain imports falls due to the imposition of an import duty, the world market prices for these goods will fall (Corden 1984). The optimal tariff tries to exploit this price effect. If the demand for an imported good is reduced by the imposition of a duty rate (since the good becomes more expensive domestically), the world market price of the good falls and the terms of trade of the importing country improve. For a given number of goods exported, the country can now import more goods than before.

But other large economies can also take the same measures, which could eventually lead to higher and higher tariffs and even trade to a standstill.

Climate tariff

The introduction of a CO 2 tax is currently being discussed worldwide, including in the European Union, but this could lead to a competitive advantage for markets in which there is no such tax. A climate tariff is therefore being discussed as a compensation levy to prevent this competitive advantage. A well-known example of a climate tariff comes from the economist Gabriel Felbermayr . According to his calculation, the production of 1 kg of onions costs 30 cents in Germany and only 20 cents in New Zealand. The CO 2 emissions that arise during transport from New Zealand to Germany are traditionally not taxed. If the European Union now introduces a CO 2 tax , this will only affect onions produced in Europe. New Zealand onions would therefore have a competitive advantage. The introduction of a climate tariff would offset this so that European onions would continue to be competitive despite the CO 2 tax.

Welfare effects of tariffs

Tariffs affect a country's welfare. A distinction must be made between a small or a large country. This differentiation is necessary because the introduction of a tariff in a large country leads to a significant drop in demand on the world market and thus the world market price drops. In a small country there is no change in the global price level.

... in a small country

The producer surplus rises (a higher price is set) and government revenues rise. Both effects lead to increases in welfare. At the same time, however, the consumer surplus is falling (there is less demand and a higher price is paid). This leads to negative welfare effects: Since the negative effects always predominate in a small country, there is always a total loss of welfare.

... in a big country

The imposition of tariffs has an impact on the world market price, which falls due to falling demand. The result is a positive effect on the terms of trade . If this effect exceeds the loss of efficiency (increased producer surplus + increased government revenue - decreased consumer surplus), there will be a positive welfare development.

European Union

The European Union is a customs union within which no customs duties are levied. In contrast, the Member States are responsible for the administration of customs duties (e.g. in Germany the Federal Customs Administration or in Austria the Ministry of Finance within the framework of financial administration ). The EU is entitled to the customs revenue of all European member states - one of the few direct sources of income for the EU, which is otherwise largely financed from member contributions of the member states. The EU also sets the level of customs duties and issues further regulations in this matter. The legal basis is Art. 28 I and 29 ff. TFEU and Art.  XXIV GATT . Only import duties vis-à-vis non-EU countries, which are of particular importance as a central instrument of the common trade policy, are of importance here.

The free ports in Emden (1751–2009), Bremerhaven (since 1827), Bremen (until 2008), Hamburg (1888–2012, previously outside the EU) are used for processing, refining and importing goods with subsequent export outside the EU independent quasi-free port of the German customs area), Cuxhaven and Kiel (until 2009). Since the founding of the EU, free ports have also been set up in the inland ports Deggendorf and Duisburg (1990). Import duty is only incurred when the goods are brought from the free port into the Community. Customs warehouses can also be used to store goods , where the payment of customs duties is suspended for the duration of the storage period. In Austria, free warehouses and free zones (previously duty-free warehouses) were set up. These are mostly located in the context of Danube ports such as Linz , Krems or Vienna , airports , but also in the warehouse of freight forwarders and other relevant companies.


In Switzerland , both legislative sovereignty and administration are the direct responsibility of the state. See also Federal Customs Administration .

See also


Web links

Commons : Customs Services  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. German Customs: Self-Declaring ( Memento of the original from January 6, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed April 20, 2010. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Archived copy ( memento of the original from October 9, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ Definition of “prohibitive customs” - Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon
  4. Regulation of the Council of the EU No. 260/2009 of February 26, 2009 (Official Journal of the EU No. L 84 of March 31, 2009).
  5. Gabler Verlag (editor), Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, retaliation customs
  6. Michael Heine, Hansjörg Herr: Economics. Paradigm-oriented introduction to micro- and macroeconomics. 3rd, completely revised and expanded edition. Oldenbourg, Munich a. a. 2003, ISBN 3-486-27293-4 , p. 692.
  7. a b Petra Pinzler, Mark Schieritz: CO 2 -renzausgleich: Klimazoll . In: The time . December 11, 2019 ( [accessed December 27, 2019]).