What Is a Tariff? Definition and Guide

what is a tariff

A tariff is a tax imposed by a government on goods and services imported from other countries that serves to increase the price and make imports less desirable, or at least less competitive, versus domestic goods and services. Tariffs are generally introduced as a means of restricting trade from particular countries or reducing the importation of specific types of goods and services.

For example, to discourage the purchase of Italian leather handbags, the U.S. government could introduce a tariff of 50% that drives the purchase price of those bags so high that domestic alternatives are much more affordable. The government’s hope is that the added cost will make imported goods much less desirable.

A pre-income tax source of funding

In addition to discouraging the purchase of imported goods, tariffs at one time were also the major source of governmental income. Until the income tax was introduced in 1913, tariff revenue comprised as much as 95% of governmental funding. Back then, typical tariffs were 20% of the product’s value.

Tariff FAQ

What is a tariff in simple terms?

A tariff is a tax on goods and services imported into a country. It is typically used to increase the price of imported goods, making them more expensive than domestic goods and services, thus protecting domestic industries.

What is a tariff example?

A tariff example is a tax placed on imported or exported goods. For example, the United States has imposed a 25% tariff on imported steel from China.

What is the main purpose of a tariff?

The main purpose of a tariff is to increase the price of imported goods in order to protect domestic industries from foreign competition and to raise revenue for the government.