NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Tariff Incidence: Evidence from U.S. Sugar Duties, 1890-1930

Douglas A. Irwin

NBER Working Paper No. 20635
Issued in October 2014
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, International Trade and Investment

Direct empirical evidence on whether domestic consumers or foreign exporters bear the burden of a country's import duties is scarce. This paper examines the incidence of U.S. sugar duties using a unique set of high-frequency (weekly, and sometimes daily) data on the landed and the duty-inclusive price of raw sugar in New York City from 1890 to 1930, a time when the United States consumed more than 20 percent of world sugar production and was therefore plausibly a "large" country. The results reveal a striking asymmetry: a tariff reduction is immediately passed through to consumer prices with no impact on the import price, whereas about 40 percent of a tariff increase is passed through to consumer prices and 60 percent borne by foreign exporters. The apparent explanation for the asymmetric response is the asymmetric response of demand: imports collapse upon a tariff increase, but do not surge after a tariff reduction.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20635

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