What is a Tariff Database?

John Lister

A tariff database is a detailed listing of the tariffs placed upon particular types of goods. Importers will regularly consult a tariff database so they can work out how much import duty they will have to pay on a product and build this amount into their financial planning. Exporters will use such a database when deciding what price to charge foreign customers, knowing the customers will have to pay this tariff.

A tariff database is a detailed listing of fees placed upon particular imported or exported goods.
A tariff database is a detailed listing of fees placed upon particular imported or exported goods.

A tariff is usually a tax applied on imports of a specific good, though it can be applied to exports. In some cases, tariffs can be used simply as a general revenue-raising tool for a government. In other cases, tariffs can be an attempt to affect prices and thus influence trade. Intentionally using high tariffs to deter citizens from buying imported goods, thus boosting the business of domestic producers, is know as protectionism.

The tariff database will normally be a more accessible version of a document known as a tariff schedule. This is the legal record of tariff rates. The database merely turns this into a form that can be easily searched electronically. Searching the schedule in printed form can be extremely complicated, as the arrangement of the listings is not always in an order a particular importer would find logical.

A tariff database is normally an extremely complicated and detailed set of data. For example, the various United States tariff databases work from a document known as the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. This contains more than 17,000 categories of goods. For example, vulcanized transmission v-belts alone are classed in eight different categories, depending on their size, whether they are ribbed, and whether they contain other materials.

Most countries take part in a system known as the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, otherwise known as the Harmonized System. This means that all the relevant countries use the same reference codes for the same type of good. Under the system, all countries follow a list of four-digit codes for general categories of goods, and then a further two digits to cover sub-categories. The idea of this system is to make sure it is easier for businesses in one country to check the details of a tariff database in another country. The system also allows for easier gathering of data such as global trade statistics.

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