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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.

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WTO world tariff profiles

I've just come across a new publication from the World Trade Organization called "World Tariff Profiles." 2006 seems to be the first edition but the WTO site calls it an "annual compilation." So this is another good resource for tariff data going forward from 2006.

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