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Import Licensing

The WTO Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures (Import Licensing Agreement) sets out rules for all Members on the use of import licensing systems to regulate their trade. Import Licensing systems are administrative procedures requiring the submission of an application or other documentation (other than that typically required for customs purposes) to a designated administrative body as a prior condition for importation.  In addition to import licensing itself, the Agreement also covers procedures associated with a range of practices meeting that definition, including import approvals, import permissions or permits, and activity licenses required for importation.

Agreement's provisions include guidelines for what constitutes a fair and non-discriminatory application of such procedures with the goal of protecting Members from unreasonable requirements or delays associated with a licensing regime.

These obligations are intended to ensure that import licensing procedures do not create additional barriers to trade beyond the policy measures implemented through licensing. In addition, the Agreement establishes requirements for periodic notifications that describe any licensing systems applied to imports, along with copies of the relevant legislation, in order to increase the transparency and predictability of Members' licensing regimes.

The Import Licensing Agreement's provisions discipline licensing procedures, and do not directly address the WTO consistency of the underlying measures that are being implemented through licensing. Members are required to have WTO justification for any licensing requirements established.

The Agreement covers both "automatic" licensing systems, which are intended only to monitor imports, not regulate them, and "non-automatic" licensing systems, under which certain conditions must be met before a license is issued. Governments often use non-automatic licensing to administer import restrictions such as quotas and tariff-rate quotas (TRQs), or to administer safety or other requirements (e.g., for hazardous goods, armaments, antiquities, etc.).

Requirements for permission to import that act like import licenses, such as certification of standards and sanitary and technical regulations, are also subject to the rules of the Import Licensing Agreement.

The Committee on Import Licensing Procedures

The Committee on Import Licensing (the Import Licensing Committee) administers the Agreement and meets twice a year.

The Committee seeks to encourage compliance with the mutually agreed rules laid out in the Agreement through a system of regular Committee reviews of the notifications submitted by WTO Members. The Committee also receives questions from Members on the licensing regimes of other Members, whether or not these regimes have been notified to the Committee. The Committee meetings also address specific observations and complaints concerning Members' licensing systems.

These reviews offer Members an opportunity to focus multilateral attention on licensing measures and procedures that they find problematic, to receive information on specific issues and to clarify problems, and possibly to resolve issues before they become disputes.

The Agreements can be accessed on the WTO website.

Additional information on WTO work related to import licensing can be accessed through the WTO website.

Documents related to the work of the Committee on Import Licensing can be accessed through the WTO "Documents Online" website. For help in navigating this website, select "Help" in the navigation bar at the top of the screen after opening the website.

  • Annual Reports of the Committee on Import Licensing to the Council on Trade in Goods can be obtained by searching under the Document Code G/L/% (where % takes additional values), and Document Title "Committee on Import Licensing".

  • Minutes of the meetings of the Committee on Import Licensing can be obtained by searching under the Document Code G/LIC/M/% (where % takes additional values).

  • Notifications to the Committee on Import Licensing can be obtained by searching under the Document Code G/LIC/N/% (where % takes additional values).

  • Questions and replies by Members concerning import licensing Notifications can be obtained by searching under the Document Code G/LIC/Q/% (where % takes additional values).