THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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Argentina countered that the statistics show imports from most of these countries continue to rise. It referred members to its previous explanations that the licensing requirements conform to the WTO’s Import Licensing Agreement and are legitimate for promoting economic development at a time of international economic crisis. (More details below.)

Questions and answers: Members also questioned Viet Nam about its import licensing regime, India about its licensing for boric acid and for marble and similar stones, and Indonesia about its licensing for animals, animal products and fruit and vegetables. They asked about details of how the licensing works and expressed concern that the processes are unclear and in some cases have not been notified to the WTO. (More below.)

Also before the committee were 30 new notifications from members about their licensing laws and regulations, new or revised rules, and annual replies to a questionnaire (document G/LIC/3). Members did not comment on any of these.

Cutting the committee’s costs: The committee, like other WTO bodies, is starting to cut costs by reducing the amount of paper printed and the length of documents issued. Chairperson Shai Moses reported that in an informal consultation immediately before the formal meeting, members agreed to follow where possible the recommendations of the Budget, Finance and Administration Committee adopted by the General Council on 30 November 2011. Consultations will continue on this, he said.

Background: Import licences are permits granted before a product is imported. The administrative procedures for obtaining the licences should be simple, neutral, equitable and transparent. Where possible they should be given automatically and quickly, and even if they are non-automatic they should not obstruct trade unnecessarily.

Transparency is largely achieved through information, questions and answers circulated in writing, some of these discussed in the committee’s meetings. The committee also discusses any other issues arising from the Import Licensing Agreement’s implementation.


Some details


Argentina’s import licensing measures and procedures

Australia, Turkey, the EU, Norway, Thailand, the US, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Rep. Korea, Switzerland and Canada said their producers and traders reported that their exports to Argentina have declined or been delayed by Argentina’s licensing processes and requirements, which some described as “protectionist”.

Among the complaints were:

  • Almost 600 products are now covered either explicitly or in practice, each requiring individual approval in order to be imported
  • Non-automatic licences are issued as part of a “trade-balancing” policy, on condition that the importer also exports or invests in local production
  • Processing an application can take considerably longer than the 30-60 days maximums for non-automatic licensing set in the agreement’s Art.3.5(f)
  • The licensing is more burdensome than necessary and raises problems under other agreements such as those on technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures (food safety and animal and plant health), and customs valuation, as well as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the umbrella agreement for trade in goods)
  • Argentina as a member of the G-20 group of leading economies is not living up to the group’s declarations against increasing protectionism

They urged Argentina to explain in detail and in writing why it believes its measures comply with its obligations under WTO agreements.

They referred to the complaint raised by 22 members in the in the Goods Council’s meeting on 30 March 2012. (See document G/C/W/667, and Argentina’s reply, G/C/W/668)

Argentina said it would not repeat the answer it gave in the Goods Council, but it did describe in detail how importers can apply for licences online — Argentina and its trading partners differ over how easy the website is to use. It also said statements made outside the WTO — in the G-20 — should not be raised in the WTO.

In the Goods Council Argentina said its measures are compatible with WTO rules, with streamlined features to make processing easier. It said its imports rose by 30% in 2011 — the highest increase among G-20 countries and evidence that it was not restricting imports.

Concerns about Argentina’s measures have been raised in the WTO since 2009. The Import Licensing Committee’s 14 October 2011 meeting (see minutes, document G/LIC/M/34) saw a lengthy discussion, including about non-automatic licences extended to a number of products in 2011.


Questions and answers

Viet Nam’s licensing regime. The US, supported by the EU said the Vietnamese government had issued a number of circulars on import licensing, which were not notified to the WTO. They urged Viet Nam to live up to its obligations under its membership agreement and the Import Licensing Agreement by notifying all its licensing measures. Viet Nam said all but two have expired and those two are being notified. (See document G/LIC/Q/VNM/2)

India’s licensing for boric acid. This issue has been raised before when India had replied to several sets of questions. The US, supported by Turkey, said it remains concerned about licensing requirements, for example why applicants have to provide certain types of information and whether domestic suppliers have to do the same. India said the questions are still being studied in its capital and described where the information on the procedure is available. (See documents G/LIC/Q/IND/19, G/LIC/Q/IND/16, G/LIC/Q/IND/14, G/LIC/Q/IND/12)

Indonesia’s licensing for livestock, animal products, and fruit and vegetables. The US and Canada, supported by Australia, the EU, Brazil, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, complained that Indonesia’s licensing for these products, which they described as non-automatic, untransparent (for example the criteria for receiving approval are unclear) and could amount to restrictions on the quantities that can be imported. They urged Indonesia to notify the measures. (See document G/LIC/Q/IDN/19)

Indonesia provided replies in writing, which will be circulated, explaining the licensing. Because all importers meeting the necessary requirements are allowed to import, the licences are automatic, Indonesia said.

Indonesia’s Regulation 57/12/2010. The US followed up on replies supplied by Indonesia to questions about an earlier notification. The US said some information was missing or unclear, and urged Indonesia to notify. Indonesia said a new notification has been submitted and is being processed. (See documents G/LIC/Q/IDN/18 and G/LIC/N/IDN/4)

India’s licensing for marble and similar stone. Turkey, supported by the EU and US, followed up on an earlier exchange by seeking clarification about which products are covered and why, and suggested the licensing procedure has the effect of a quantitative restriction. India asked for the questions in writing in order to prepare replies. (See document G/LIC/Q/IND/18)


Next meeting

22 October 2012 (Date could be changed)


  • Mr Shai Moses (Israel), vice chairperson, in place of Mr Flavio Soares Damico (Brazil), who has returned to capital.
  • Mr Pierre Emmanuel Brusselmans (Belgium) was elected as the new chairperson at the end of the meeting, and Mrs Elisa Olmeda de Alejandro as vice-chairperson.

Jargon buster 

Place the cursor over a term to see its definition:

• automatic import licensing

• import licensing

• notification

> More jargon: glossary

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