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Mr. Michael Keen

Abstract

One of the great ironies of intellectual history is that Adam Smith, the apostle of free trade, ended his days as a Comptroller of Customs. By the same token, it may seem strange that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), committed to the principles of free trade, should devote a good deal of its technical assistance activities to strengthening the performance of customs administrations. In each case, however, the explanation is easily found. For Smith, the position of Comptroller at Kircaldy, a post his father had also held, was an attractive sinecure (as customs posts continue to be in all too many countries). For the IMF, the support of improvement in customs administration reflects the recognition that although customs administration would wither away in an ideal world, in practice trade taxes are likely to be a significant source of revenue for many of its members, especially developing countries, for the foreseeable future; and that if trade taxes are to be levied, it is best that this be in a way that does least collateral damage to international trade flows.