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A customs union is generally defined as a type of trade bloc which is composed of a free trade area with a common external tariff.
Customs unions are established through trade pacts where the participant countries set up common external trade policy (in some cases they use different import quotas). Common competition policy is also helpful to avoid competition deficiency.
Purposes for establishing a customs union normally include increasing economic efficiency and establishing closer political and cultural ties between the member countries. It is the third stage of economic integration.
Every economic union, customs and monetary union and economic and monetary union includes a customs union.
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of the World Trade Organization framework defines a customs union in the following way:
(a) A customs union shall be understood to mean the substitution of a single customs territory for two or more customs territories, so that
(i) duties and other restrictive regulations of commerce (except, where necessary, those permitted under Articles XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV and XX) are eliminated with respect to substantially all the trade between the constituent territories of the union or at least with respect to substantially all the trade in products originating in such territories, and,
(ii) subject to the provisions of paragraph 9, substantially the same duties and other regulations of commerce are applied by each of the members of the union to the trade of territories not included in the union;
The German Customs Union, the Zollverein, which was established in 1834, and gradually developed and expanded, was a customs union organization that appeared earlier and played a role in promoting German economic development and political unification at that time. Before the establishment of the unified German Empire in the 1870s, there were checkpoints between and within the German states, which hindered the development of industry and commerce. In 1818, Prussia took the lead in abolishing the customs duties in the mainland; it was followed by the establishment of the North German Customs Union in 1826. Two years later, two customs unions were established in the states of China and South Germany.
In 1834, 18 states joined together to form the German Customs Union with Prussia as the main leader. Thereafter, this alliance was further expanded to all German-speaking regions and became the All-German Customs Union. The contents of the alliance convention included: abolishing internal tariffs, unifying external tariffs, raising import tax rates, and allocating tariff income to all states in the alliance in proportion. In addition, there is a customs union between France and Monaco, which was established in 1865.
A customs union was established by Switzerland and Liechtenstein in 1924, by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg in 1948, by the countries of the European Economic Community in 1958, and by the Economic Community of Central African States in 1964. At that time, the European Free Trade Association was different from the European Economic Community Customs Union. Free trade within the former was limited to industrial products, and no uniform tariffs were imposed on countries outside the Union.
The main feature of the Customs Union is that the member countries have not only eliminated trade barriers and implemented free trade, but also established a common external tariff. In other words, in addition to agreeing to eliminate each other 's trade barriers, members of the Customs Union also adopt common external tariff and trade policies. GATT stipulates that if the customs union is not established immediately, but is gradually completed over a period of time, it should be completed within a reasonable period, which generally does not exceed 10 years.
The exclusive protection measures of the Customs Union mainly include the following:
The Customs Union started in Europe and is one of the organizational forms of economic integration. The customs union has two economic effects, static effects and dynamic effects.
There are trade creation effects and trade diversion effects. The trade creation effect refers to the benefits generated by products from domestic production with higher production costs to the production of customs union countries with lower costs. The trade diversion effect refers to the loss incurred when a product is imported from a non-member country with lower production costs to a member country with a higher cost. This is the price of joining the customs union. When the trade creation effect is greater than the transfer effect, the combined effect of joining the Customs Union on the member countries is net profit, which means an increase in the economic welfare level of the member countries; otherwise, it is a net loss and a decline in the economic welfare level.
The trade creation effect is usually regarded as a positive effect. This is because the domestic production cost of country A is higher than the production cost of country A 's imports from country B. The Customs Union made Country A give up the domestic production of some commodities and change it to Country B to produce these commodities. From a worldwide perspective, this kind of production conversion improves the efficiency of resource allocation.
The customs union will not only bring static effects to member states, but also bring some dynamic effects to them. Sometimes, this dynamic effect is more important than its static effect, which has an important impact on the economic growth of member countries.
|Agreement||Date (in force)||Recent reference|
|Andean Community (CAN)||1988-05-25||L/6737|
|Caribbean Community (CARICOM)||1991-01-01|
|Central American Common Market (CACM)||2004-10-06||WT/REG93/R/B/2|
|Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)||2005-01-01|||
|East African Community (EAC)||2005-01-01||WT/COMTD/N/14|
|Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC)||1999-06-01|
|Eurasian Customs Union (EACU)||2010-07-01|
|European Union Customs Union (EUCU; EU–Monaco)||1958|
|∟ EU–Andorra Customs Union||1991-07-01||WT/REG53/M/3|
|∟ EU–San Marino Customs Union||2002-04-01|
|∟ EU–Turkey Customs Union||1996-01-01||WT/REG22/M/4|
|Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)||2015-01-01|
|Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)||1991-11-29||WT/COMTD/1/Add.17|
|Southern African Customs Union (SACU)||1910||WT/REG231/3|
|West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU)||1994-01-10||WT/COMTD/N/11/Add.1|
|UK - UK Crown Dependencies Customs Union(UK-UKCD)||2019-03-13|||
Additionally, the autonomous and dependent territories such as some of the EU member state special territories are sometimes treated as separate customs territories from their mainland states or have varying arrangements of formal or de facto customs union, common market and currency union (or combinations thereof) with the mainland and in regards to third countries through the trade pacts signed by the mainland state.
The European Union is a customs union and therefore sets a common external tarif.