The chairman pointed out that 16 members have not submitted any notifications under the Agreement since joining the WTO while an additional nine members have not submitted the annual questionnaires on import licensing procedures required under Article 7.3 of the Agreement.
On the positive side, the chairman noted that a few members, including Samoa, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan, submitted their first import licensing notifications under various provisions of the Agreement, which were presented for review at the 20 October committee meeting.
Improving transparency through notifications is an important objective of the Agreement, particularly given past concerns about the use of border measures such as import licensing requirements to restrict imports.
The Agreement sets out rules aimed at preventing trade distortions that may arise from the inappropriate operation of import licensing procedures. The Agreement seeks to ensure that any administrative procedures for obtaining the licences should be simple, neutral, equitable and transparent.
The committee also reviewed the concerns raised regarding specific import licensing measures of various WTO members:
- The European Union, Iceland, Norway, Chile and Uruguay quizzed Nigeria about its regulatory requirements for imports of fishery products. The EU said it was concerned these requirements appeared to be adopted for the purpose of reducing imports. It asked Nigeria to clarify the reasons why the new import licensing procedures were needed. Iceland, Norway and Uruguay, as well as the United States and Chile, said they shared the EU’s concerns, with Iceland and Chile citing declining fishery exports to the Nigerian market. Nigeria said its fish import policy was still being formulated and that it was continuing consultations with concerned stakeholders on the policy which it hoped would lead to an amicable solution.
- The EU questioned regulatory requirements in Brazil for imports of nitrocellulose, which has industrial as well as military applications. The EU says Brazil has put in place a non-automatic import licensing regime for the importation of industrial nitrocellulose that operates de facto as a ban and it asked for details on the number of import licences requested and granted over the past five years. The EU said Brazil has failed to comply with the Agreement and urged that restrictions on the import of industrial nitrocellulose be lifted immediately. Brazil countered that it has imported nitrocellulose regularly over the past five years in both high and low concentration forms, mainly from Europe, and that it has refused only a handful of import licensing requests. Brazil added that nitrocellulose is hazardous and poses risks regardless of concentration levels, and that it imposes the licensing requirements for legitimate safety and security reasons.
- The United States reiterated its “serious” concerns about import licensing requirements in Indonesia for cellphones, handheld computers and tablets. Among the requirements cited by the US was a rule requiring importers to commit to the domestic manufacture of the goods in question within three years. The US said the requirements appear to be a barrier to imports and could seriously distort trade in the region. Japan said it shared the US concerns. Indonesia said that it would be submitting a new notification regarding the import licensing requirements which it hoped would address some confusion raised by the earlier notice.
- The EU and the US cited concerns about two sets of measures in India affecting imports of marble and marble products and imports of boric acid. On the former, the EU said it received complaints from its industry regarding a new licensing regime setting import quotas and minimum prices, and asked India to explain how this was justified for safety reasons. India said the restrictions were justified under Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on the conservation of exhaustible natural resources, noting that the cutting and processing of marble had adverse effects on the environment. On boric acid, the US said its concerns were mainly focused on end use certificate requirements, and that while these concerns remained, it was engaged in dialogue with India on the issue which it hoped would continue. India added that bilateral talks on the issue took place in August and that it was happy to engage further with the US on the issue.
Among the various other items taken up at the meeting, Canada, the EU, Japan, New Zealand, the US and Chinese Taipei posed questions regarding a 2013 regulation in Indonesia revising the country’s import permit system for animals and animal products. Indonesia said the measures were justified and in accordance with WTO rules. The US said it was also awaiting replies to questions posed to Bangladesh and Viet Nam regarding its import licensing procedures. Both countries said they planned to submit responses.
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 supplied in three types of notifications, and questions and answers circulated in writing, with some of these discussed in the committee’s meetings. The committee also discusses any other issues arising from the Import Licensing Agreement’s implementation.
Further information can be found at wto.org/importlicensing