Tax levied upon goods as they cross national boundaries, usually by the government of the importing country. The words tariff, duty, and customs are generally used interchangeably. Usually assessed on imports, tariffs may apply to all foreign goods or only to goods produced outside the borders of a customs union. A tariff may be assessed directly, at the border, or indirectly, by requiring the prior purchase of a license or permit to import specified quantities of the good. Examples of tariffs include transit duties and import or export taxes, which may be levied on goods passing through a customs area en route to another destination. In addition to providing a source of revenue, tariffs can effectively protect local industry by driving up the price of an imported item that competes with domestic products. This practice allows domestic producers either to charge higher prices for their goods or to capitalize on their own lighter taxes by charging lower prices and attracting more customers. Tariffs are often used to protect “infant industries” or to safeguard older industries that are in decline. They are sometimes criticized for imposing hidden costs on domestic consumers and encouraging inefficiency in domestic industries. Tariffs are subject to negotiation and treaties among nations (see General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade; trade agreement; World Trade Organization).
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Duty (from "due," that which is owing, O. Fr. deu, did, past participle of devoir; Lat. debere, debitum; cf. "debt") is a term that conveys a sense of moral commitment to someone or something. The moral commitment is the sort that results in action, and it is not a matter of passive feeling or mere recognition. When someone recognizes a duty, that person commits himself/herself to the cause involved without considering the self-interested courses of actions that may have been relevant previously. This is not to suggest that living a life of duty precludes one from the best sort of life, but duty does involve some sacrifice of immediate self-interest.
Cicero is an early philosopher who acknowledged this possibility. He discusses duty in his work “On Duty." He suggests that duties can come from four different sources:
From the root idea of obligation to serve or give something in return, involved in the conception of duty, have sprung various derivative uses of the word; thus it is used of the services performed by a minister of a church, by a soldier, or by any employee or servant.
Many schools of thought have debated the idea of duty. While many assert mankind's duty on their own terms, some philosophers have absolutely rejected a sense of duty.