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Customs Duties

revenue, tax, imports, articles, british and dutiable

CUSTOMS DUTIES, the portion of a state's revenue derived from a tax on imports. In some countries, customs duties are imposed on certain exports also. The origin of the term is connected with the long conflict between the Crown and Parliament as to the right of taxa tion, although the practice it signifies goes back to the days of Greece and Rome. To meet the claims made by the House of Commons to the exclusive right to vote all supplies, it used to be maintained that there were certain duties on exports and imports to which the Crown had acquired a right by custom (although it is certain that customs duties existed in England prior to the Norman Conquest), and after the power of Parliament over this branch of taxa tion had been fully established it retained its old name. This tax, which originally was a sort of premium of insurance for protection from robbery, after the excise came in force was always applicable distinctively to goods changing place. There were customs not only upon things leaving and things entering the British dominions, but also upon commodities transferred from one part of the country to another. In Scotland the duty on commodities imported into any town from a foreign country was called the great custom; and the duty charged by a burghal corporation on com modities coming within its walls from the country districts was called the small or petty customs. After 1707 the Scottish customs duties became the same as those of England. At present the term customs duties applies in the United Kingdom solely to the tax levied on commodities imported from abroad.

The tax on imports was, of old, a simple percentage, familiarly known as °tonnage and poundage," from the method to which it was levied on the tun of wine, or the pound ad valorem of other merchandise. These were

subsidies granted first to the Crown, and then for the maintenance of the authority and dignity of the state. Thus they were a species of pub lic revenue; and many complications arose by the additions and alterations of successive gov ernments. The belief also arose that customs duties might be utilized for fostering domestic industries and discouraging foreign competition. Frequently the duties were such as to act as a prohibition to importation, and they always added greatly to the selling price.

In 1825 the laws of the British' customs were consolidated into about half a dozen statutes. Some idea of the confused and cumbersome condition of the customs system before that year may be gathered from the fact that the number of acts repealed then was 443. A long list of customs duties remained until the f ree trade legislation of 1846. One by one articles of food were exempted; and at present the whole British customs revenue is derived from spirits, wine, tobacco, coffee, tea and certain dried fruits. In modern times taxes upon ex ports have been discarded by most states, al though several states of Latin-America are dependent on them for the bulk of their revenue. In the United States the number of dutiable articles is large, of the total imports the dutiable have about double the value of the free goods. The dutiable articles come under 386 paragraphs, which are again classed under schedules lettered from A to N. The free list comprises 271 paragraphs. For a dis cussion of the relative effects of a tariff for revenue and a protective tariff, specific and ad valorem duties, American practice contrasted with European, see Face TRADE; PRCYTECTION ;