Political-Economy Arguments for a Uniform Tariff
31 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2004 Last revised: 15 Jul 2010
Date Written: March 1991
Uniform tariffs have become increasingly popular in recent years, yet their economic rationale is not strong. We identify and evaluate three sets of reasons as to why governments may prefer tariff uniformity as a means of alleviating political motives for excessive protection. First, a free-rider effect may be conducive to less lobbying under a uniform tariff regime than under a regime in which tariffs are allowed to differ. Second, an input-price effect may dampen the enthusiasm of final-goods producers for import protection. Third, a precommitment effect may increase the cost to a future government of protecting favored sectors. None of these arguments provides an unambiguous, airtight case for tariff uniformity. The decision on uniformity has to be made on a case-by-case basis.
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