Tariffs and Taxes at the Border

What are tariffs? 


Tariffs are a tax or duty that is applied to goods upon import or export. Import tariffs are paid by the importer, or buyer, and export tariffs are paid by the exporter, or seller. Export tariffs are not often applied; however, traders should be aware of these as they pose potential additional costs to their business.


Tariffs are listed in national tariff schedules, which are organized by Harmonised System (HS) codes see the Trade4MSME guide on How do I determine my product’s HS code, for more information.


A national tariff schedule may contain a range of duties for the same product, depending on which country the goods are shipped from (see the Trade4MSMEs guide on Regional Trade Agreements and Preferential Tariff Agreements). If no trade agreement exists between the exporting and importing countries, tariffs are applied at a Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) level. This means that all trading partners are treated equally for “like” products. Like products are those that are identical to the product being imported, and as such are direct competitors or substitutes to domestic products.


Other duties and charges for services rendered (ODCs) may also apply at the border upon import. For more information on tariffs and the principles of the trading system, visit the World Trade Organization (WTO) website.


What are antidumping, countervailing, and safeguard duties? 


These are duties that may be applied to imports of specific products from certain countries and/or certain companies, in order to protect domestic industries from allegedly unfair practices, or a sudden increase in imports. Although antidumping and countervailing measures always take the form of a duty, additional safeguarding measures may also be implemented, in the form of quantitative restrictions. These are a type of non-tariff measure, which are explained in more detail in the Trade4 MSME guide on Non-tariff Measures.


What other taxes might I face at the border? 


There are various types of taxes which may be applied at the border, upon import or export. These include:

  • sales tax,
  • value added tax (VAT),
  • goods and services tax (GST)


These taxes are usually charged to the importer, and generally charged at a set % amount against the

the value of the goods, the handling & shipping costs, as well as any levies or duties that may be applied. It is important to understand the type and amount of taxes which may apply upon import in each country before you start the shipment process of your goods.


  • Sales tax is applied only at the final sale of a finished good or service.
  • VAT is applied at each point in the production or distribution process, starting with the raw materials, and finishing with the final retail sale. Although every purchaser pays VAT, businesses can deduct the amount of VAT paid to other firms. This leaves the responsibility with the final consumer, just as with sales tax.
  • More than 140 countries and customs territories worldwide levy VAT. Each has its own VAT, so it is important to research and consider it as part of the cost for shipping abroad
  • GST may also be applied at each point in the production or distribution process, starting with the raw materials, and finishing with the final retail sale, in addition to VAT.


How can I find out which tariff measures apply to my product? 


Chambers of commerce, industry associations, and trade agencies provide online portals with lists of trade measures for all types of products. Businesses can also identify trade measures in their targeted markets by using these available online tools:

  • Global Trade Helpdesk: Provides an overview of tariffs, domestic and product requirements, and market conditions.
  • The Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal (I-TIP): provides a single-entry point for information compiled by the WTO on trade policy measures.
  • Tariff Analysis Online: This is an advanced online database that allows users to extract detailed information for specific products, including bound and applied MFN and preferential tariffs at the national tariff line level (HS-8 digits or more), as well as other duties and charges as notified by importing economy.
  • Market Access Map: This identifies customs tariffs, tariff-rate quotas, trade remedies, and non-tariff measures that apply to a specific good in any market in the world. Visit the map to learn more.
  • World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS): The WITS database displays detailed statistics and country profiles on trade flows, tariffs, and non-tariff measures. Visit the WITS database for further detail.


Where can I learn more? 


  • FedEx: This website has a useful video and other information on how duties and taxes are calculated.
  • WTO DATA: This new data portal which publishes general statistical indicators related to WTO issues. This includes data on applied MFN, preferential, and bound tariffs for all WTO Members. These are aggregated at the standard HS levels (2-digit chapter, 4-digit heading and 6-digit subheading levels).
  • World Tariff Profiles: This is a tariff data book jointly published by the WTO, the International Trade Centre (ITC), and UNCTAD, which provides comprehensive summary information on the tariffs and non-tariff measures imposed by over 170 countries and customs territories. Tariff data are presented in comparative tables and in one-page profiles for each economy.


Links to Supporting Information


Trade4 MSMEs Guide  How Do I Determine My Product’s HS Code?


Trade4 MSMEs Guide  Regional Trade Agreements and Preferential Trade Agreements


Trade4 MSMEs Guide  Non-tariff Measures


World Trade Organization – information on tariffs  WTO | Tariffs


World Trade Organization – Principles of the trading system WTO | Understanding the WTO – principles of the trading system


World Trade Organization briefing note: Anti-dumping, subsidies, and safeguards  WTO | Ministerial conferences – Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference – Briefing notes


Global Trade Helpdesk Global Trade Helpdesk


The WTO Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal (I-TIP)  WTO | Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal (I-TIP)


The WTO Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal (I-TIP) Tariff Analysis Online  Welcome to TAO – Tariff Analysis Online facility provided by WTO


ITC Market Access Map  Market Access Map


World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) database World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) | Data on Export, Import, Tariff, NTM


FedEx How duties and taxes are calculated | United Kingdom


United States Council for International Business VAT Per Country | Value Added Tax Rates By Country | USCIB


WTO DATA: data portal   WTO Data – Information on trade and trade policy measures


World Tariff Profiles: This is a tariff data book jointly published by the WTO, the International Trade Centre (ITC), and UNCTAD  WTO | Economic research and analysis gateway – World Tariff Profiles


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