Discussion paper

DP5540 Optimal Tariffs: The Evidence

The theoretical debate over whether countries can and should set tariffs in response to export elasticities goes back over a century to the writings of Edgeworth (1894) and Bickerdike (1907). Despite the optimal tariff argument's centrality in debates over trade policy, there exists no evidence about whether countries actually apply it when setting tariffs. We estimate disaggregate export elasticities and find evidence that countries that are not members of the World Trade Organization systematically set higher tariffs on goods that are supplied inelastically. The result is robust to the inclusion of political economy variables and a variety of model specifications. Moreover, we find that countries with higher aggregate market power have on average higher tariffs. In short, we find strong evidence in favour of the optimal tariff argument.


Weinstein, D, N Limão and C Broda (eds) (2006), “DP5540 Optimal Tariffs: The Evidence”, CEPR Press Discussion Paper No. 5540. https://cepr.org/publications/dp5540