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2.9 EU Import Regulations

All Members of the EU have adopted a common trade policy towards imports from third countries. The EU has a relatively liberal import regime. In general, import licensing is not required for products entering an EU country, except for certain sensitive products like agricultural goods, tobacco, weapons, etc., and products governed by quantitative restrictions (i.e. quotas) and surveillance.

2.9.1 Import Licensing

The EU import licensing system is based on the premise that no import licences are required unless specific products are subject to import surveillance, quantitative restrictions or safeguard measures.

As regards import surveillance, specific products may be monitored by the EU in order to increase transparency in trade, but without the purpose of imposing limits on access to the EU market. As a result of this surveillance, statistical controls and further controls on the origin of the products are established. In such cases, the objective is to avoid eventual diversion of trade and customs fraud. EU surveillance measures apply to certain iron and steel imports from countries other than the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), countries which are parties to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA), and Turkey. Surveillance measures also apply to certain textile products and potassium chloride.[34]

Import licences authorise the import of products which are subject to certain restrictions in the EU. Licences are issued immediately by the competent authorities in all the Member States when the “first come, first served” basis is used. In other cases, they are issued within ten days of notification of the EU decision indicating the quantities to be distributed. They are valid throughout the EU, except in situations where a quota is limited to one or more countries of the EU, where these licences are only valid in the Member State(s) or the region(s) in question. These licences are valid for four months.

Regulation 738/94 lays down common rules concerning the formalities for lodging applications for licences and also the use of licences. It also establishes an EU licence and a common form for licences. Finally, it provides a list of the competent administrative authorities in each Member State dealing with the issuance of import licences.

Applications for import licences must be submitted to the relevant department of the Member States, on a prescribed application form and, in most cases, be accompanied by an original export document provided by the supplier and a copy of an invoice. The licensing authorities have to issue an import authorisation within a maximum of five working days of the presentation by the importer of the original of the corresponding export licence. Import licences are valid for a period of six months from the date of their issue. The validity of a licence may only be extended in case of “force majeure”. Member States have to send all applications to the European Commission and will only issue a licence after the application has been approved by the European Commission.

2.9.2 Quotas

a) Tariff Quotas

For a number of products, a reduction of the customs duty payable is only allowed for limited quantities of imports. This limitation takes the form of tariff quotas or of tariff ceilings. Tariff quotas may apply to imports of a specified origin, normally within the framework of preferential tariff arrangements, or to imports of all origins. Recourse to tariff ceilings is normally confined to preferential tariff arrangements.

The EU maintains around 90 tariff quotas for protection of around 38% of its agricultural production. Import licences are required, for quota management purposes, on all agricultural products (subject to tariff quotas), such as cereals and cereal products, rice, sugar, oils and fats, milk products, beef and veal, sheep and goat meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and processed fruit and vegetables.

The EU has made available on-line, through its data dissemination system (DDS), information on current levels of quota utilisation for each of the tariff quotas.[35] This information is subject to constant change as a result of the daily operations which take place.

2.9.3 Restrictions and Prohibitions

The EU also has restrictions and prohibitions in place as regards the importation of some products. In particular, Hong Kong traders should be aware of the following restrictions:

a) Pirated or Counterfeit Goods

Counterfeit and pirated goods cannot be imported into the EU. The customs authorities of the EU Member States may intervene where goods are suspected of infringing intellectual property rights. The intervention may lead to the destruction of the imported goods as well as the imposition of fines on the importer.

b) Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

The EU has set up a strict import regime for GMOs. According to Council Regulation 1946/2003 on transboundary movements of GMOs, any GMO placed on the market must include a full risk review that identifies and evaluates any potential negative effects of the GMO, direct or indirect, immediate or belated and the cumulative and long-terms effects on human health and the environment. The marketing of several GMOs have been permitted in the EU. The Regulation is further discussed below.

c) Restrictions on Import of Live Animals and Animal Products

Imports of live animals and animal products from third countries must comply with certain health and monitoring standards. In addition, some restrictions are in force against bird flu. The details are discussed further below.

Furthermore, prohibitions apply to the importation of pelts of certain wild species (e.g., beavers and others) from countries that permit leg-hold traps or trapping methods that do not meet international humane trapping standards.

d) Chemical Products

An import ban is in force on goods containing mercury, PCB and PCT[36] products, and CFC and HCFC.[37] Restrictions on other hazardous substances are discussed at the relevant section of this guide concerning the environment and human health.


[34] Details on the EU surveillance measures can be found on the SIGL website, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/sigl.

[35] This information is available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/dds2/taric/quota_consultation.jsp?Lang=en

[36] Polychlorinated (trichloro- to decachloro) biphenyls (PCB) and Polychlorinated terphenyls (PCT).

[37] Dichlorodifluoromethane and chlorodifluoromethane.

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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