Skip to main content


Q&A: Average tariff levels

Question: I'm looking for data on the average tariff level of the following states: US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland,Japan, Australia, and New Zealand from 1962-1989. Any version of the average tariff (weighted average) would be fine. I read somewhere that the World Bank had this data but I have been unable to find it.

Answer: In general, for any statistics question, I always start at the Library's database page for statistics and numeric data. SourceOECD, the UN Common Database (UNCDB), and the World Bank's World Development Indicators are good places to start for international statistics (all 3 are subscription databases).

In this case, however, you'll need to go outside of Stanford Library. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has kept trade statistics since its inception in 1964. Recently, UNCTAD, the World Bank, UN Statistics Division, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) combined resources to build the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS). WITS gives access to the major trade and tariffs data compilations:

  • The COMTRADE database maintained by the UNSD;
  • The "TRade Analysis and INformation System (TRAINS) maintained by UNCTAD;
  • The IDB and CTS databases maintained by the WTO.

To make a long story shorter, you can use the TRAINS database to get average tariff statistics. TRAINS provides online access to indicators of Trade Control Measures (Tariff, Para-tariff and Non-tariff measures), as well as imports by suppliers for over 150 countries. Registration is free at

The drawback to TRAINS is that it only goes back to 1988. The World Bank has a page devoted to "trade and import barriers" that I have used before. There's a dataset called "Trends in average applied tariff rates in developing and industrial countries, 1981-2005," but is incomplete.

Prior to the 1980s, you'll need to search the journal and documents literature and/or do your own calculations for average tariffs. Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, EconLit, and the World Bank e-Library are all good sources for journal articles having to do with international trade.

Also check the following documents for possible leads and data tables:

Lastly, the library has a subscription to the International Customs Journal, published by the International Customs Tariffs Bureau (ICTB). This journal lists provisions of each country's customs tariff law and has detailed lists of items (steel, textiles, machinery, live animals, arms etc...) and the tariff charged for each item. This journal goes back to 1891 in microfilm, print and CDROM. More recently (it looks like 2000 - present), the ICTB has made that information accessible online in a searchable database.

Q&A: cultivable land in Latin America 1950 - 1990

Question: I am working on a project on agrarian reform in Latin America and I'm looking for data on cultivable land area between 1950 and 1990. The World Bank (WDI) has time-series data on arable but not cultivable land.

Answer: For any sort of international statistical question, always start with the following databases. They can all be found on the Stanford Library Databases page under the subjects "Government Information: International and Foreign" and "Statistics and Numeric Data." Note that they are subscription databases and therefore are accessible only to Stanford students, faculty and staff. Check this page for directions on setting up your proxy if you're off-campus.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also a good place to check. their FAOSTAT statistical database is freely available, "provides access to over 3 million time-series and cross sectional data relating to food and agriculture ... and contains data for 200 countries and more than 200 primary products and inputs." You can find the information in individual country profiles.

There are also many statistical resources in print, and this is sometimes the only way to find statistics before 1960. My favorites are:

  • UN Statistical Yearbook (SSRC: HA12.5U63) which goes from 1950 - present
  • Index to International Statistics (SSRC Government Documents: Z7552 .I53 and in microfiche: MFICHE570). This guide to the statistical publications of international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) is the librarian's and researcher's best friend and is available from 1983 - present. Even though it is reproduced in LexisNexis Statistical, sometimes it is best to browse by subject and country.
  • International historical statistics 1750 - 2000. This resource is in 3 volumes: The Americas, Europe, and Africa, Asia and Oceania, and can be found in call# HA in the Information Center: Statistics Shelves

I also searched Socrates and found a World Bank working paper called "Economic Growth and the environment" by Dennis Anderson (HG3881.5 .W57 P63 V.979) that includes "cultivable land area" from 1950 - 1990 with projections to 2030.

Lastly, a note on statistics. The resources that I've listed above all contained variables for "arable land" but the questioner was looking for "cultivable land." It is extremely important to look at variable definitions in the resources that you're citing to see how the organization collects and defines its data. in this case, a quick email to the FAO garnered this interesting tidbit:

...there is not really one definition for it, but it often depends on the definition each country individually uses for this variable. I'm also not sure what you mean by yearly data of cultivable land? According to us, this is a value about "potential" and therefore is not a value that differs from year to year.

So be careful out there. the land of international statistics is fraught with semantics and differing ideas about statistical definitions.

Syndicate content