Vene valitsuse tollipoliitika 18. sajandi esimesel poolel ja selle rakendamine Narvas [Abstract: Customs Policies of the Russian Government in the first half of the Eighteenth Century and their Implementation in Narva]


  • Vadim Svjatkovski University of Tartu



Russia, Customs policies, Narva, Eighteenth Century


Abstract: Customs Policies of the Russian Government in the first half of the Eighteenth Century and their Implementation in Narva

The 18th century in Northern Europe began with a long war that profoundly altered the correlation of forces in the Baltic Sea region. During the war, the Russian authorities carried out large-scale reforms, the objective of which was to modernise the Russian state. The war and the reforms called for large expenditures, and the areas conquered during warfare were treated as a source of revenue, where customs duties could be imposed and collected. The authorities implemented a set of measures to increase state revenues, and the replacement of the old export customs duty system by a new one was among those measures. Russian authorities extended and imposed these reforms on Narva and Vyborg, which were annexed by the Russian state at the time. Though there is a sufficient number of research papers on the 18th century Russian customs duty system, they mainly focus on the subject of either the duty system in general or its implementation in St Petersburg or Arkhangelsk. Less attention has been paid to Narva in this matter. The subject of this article is the examination of the Russian government customs policy in the first half of the 18th century and its implementation in Narva. The causes of the government’s customs policy measures will be researched and the changes that took place will be noted. The object of this article is to analyse the formulation and introduction of customs tariffs in the first half of the 18th century and also to clarify how consistently Russian customs duty policy was implemented in Narva. Particular cases in relation to the introduced tariffs will be examined and the consequent steps taken by the government to resolve them will be observed. Also, incoming receivables of the city treasury received from half of the portorium duty in periods when different tariffs were in effect will be discussed and compared. In the course of this research, records preserved in the Estonian National Archives were consulted: i.e., orders from the Russian government to the Narva customs office, and statistical data on customs duty income.

It has become evident from this research that the new customs tariff was introduced in Narva in 1724 because the authorities wished to promote the recently built St Petersburg port, while at the same time hindering competition from Narva in trade. By comparison, hitherto existing tariffs from the era of Swedish rule remained in effect nearly throughout the entire 18th century in other Estonian and Livonian trading cities. The Russian authorities consistently extended the subsequent tariffs of 1731 and 1757 to Narva. Thereby the Russian government altered the customs system that had been in effect in the era of Swedish rule, setting Narva apart from other Baltic trading cities. In this way, Russian customs policy affected Narva considerably more than any other Baltic trading city, and these alterations influenced the operations of the Narva customs office and the customs duties collected. The tariff of 1724 was by its nature protectionist and therewith high rates were set up.

Depending on the capability of Russian enterprises to supply the state with commodities, the import rate amounted to 37.5, 25 and 12.5 kopecks from a rouble ad valorem. At the same time it was necessary to pay customs duties in standard weight thalers at the compulsory exchange rate of 50 kopecks for a thaler. Nonetheless, the actual price of a thaler was higher than the price of a rouble; consequently the real import rate corresponded to 75, 50 and 25 per cent ad valorem. The required payment of the duty in thalers stemmed from the Russian government’s need for silver. The fact that imported commodities came from the west, where roubles were not in use, also contributed to this requirement.

After the death of Peter I, the government’s point of view changed. The ruling circles realised that Russian industry was not yet sufficiently advanced and was unable to completely satisfy the state’s needs. Moreover, the privileges granted to entrepreneurs did not always contribute to the development of enterprises because their owners abused the rights they had obtained and produced defective products. Additionally, such measures hindered trade by also depriving Russian consumers of the opportunity to buy essential products. On the whole, this also proved harmful for the state, since it furnished favourable conditions for the development of smuggling. The written petitions of foreign and Russian merchants to the Collegium of Commerce, the Senate and Empress Catherine I show that customs duties rates were too high. Therefore it became a necessity to decrease the tariff rate that had been introduced in 1724. In 1726, the Supreme Privy Council decided to establish a trade committee to improve commerce and work out a new customs tariff. As a result of the committee’s activity, the new customs tariff was published in 1731. This tariff considerably reduced the import rate. The previous 75, 50 and 25 per cent import rates were decreased to 20, 10 and 5 per cent, respectively. The first rate was to be levied on commodities that were produced sufficiently in Russia, the second rate was for goods that were produced in relatively small quantities, and the latter rate was for goods that were in short supply in Russia. The customs tariff of 1731 was in force until 1757, when it was replaced with a new one that was also protectionist, similarly to the tariff of 1724.

During the era of Swedish rule, Narva was granted the right to half of the portorium duty, i.e. the accrued revenue of the port duty. The Russian authorities preserved this privilege of Narva; however, the portorium was allotted according to different principles than before. Thus, in the era of Swedish rule, Narva received half of the portorium from all articles of commerce, whereas under Russian rule, the portorium from only a certain portion of commodities was allotted to the city.

Customs tariffs, particularly in 1724, were implemented in haste, without the respective preliminary notification. As a result, merchants could not prepare the necessary documents or modify contracts in time. For that reason, the authorities admitted numerous exceptions and gave in to merchants, replacing trade prohibitions with temporary permissions.


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Author Biography

Vadim Svjatkovski, University of Tartu

Vadim Svjatkovski is a PhD student at the University of Tartu, Institute of History and Archaeology.





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