Trade barriers

Government authorities

What government office handles complaints from domestic exporters against foreign trade barriers at the WTO or under other agreements?

The EU Trade Barrier Regulation (EU) 2015/1843 provides a complaint mechanism for EU exporters that experience discriminatory trade practices in third countries.

EU exporters can contact the DG Trade of the European Commission (https://ec.europa.eu/trade/import-and-export-rules/export-from-eu/), and if DG Trade considers a complaint is adequately substantiated it will take measures to address the situation. Normally, the Commission will first seek an amicable solution with the importing country via bilateral talks. If this is not possible, the EU can request consultations at the WTO.

Complaint filing procedure

What is the procedure for filing a complaint against a foreign trade barrier?

Under article 5 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 2015/1843, a complaint may be lodged with the Commission by an EU industry sector or individual enterprises. The complaint must detail the obstacles to trade and the injurious effect caused to the EU industry or business. Upon receipt, the Commission will decide within 45 days whether to initiate an examination procedure.

Member states can also request that the Commission initiate an examination procedure.

Grounds for investigation

What will the authority consider when deciding whether to begin an investigation?

When making its decision, the Commission considers the evidence presented by the complainant, particularly the evidence of the existence of a trade barrier, the indication as to how this barrier breaches international trade rules and the evidence that the trade barrier results or threatens to result in adverse trade effects or injury. Regard will also be had to the interests of the EU as a whole, as well as to the wider implications that the decision may have for the EU’s common commercial policy.

Measures against foreign trade barriers

What measures outside the WTO may the authority unilaterally take against a foreign trade barrier? Are any such measures currently in force?

Under article 13(3) of Council Regulation (EC) No. 2015/1843, the EU may take unilateral commercial policy measures, such as a suspension or withdrawal of concessions, an imposition (or increase) of customs duties or the introduction of quantitative restrictions.

However, in relation to WTO members, article 13(2) of Council Regulation (EC) No. 2015/1843 first obliges the EU to go through the WTO dispute settlement process. Regulation (EU) No. 654/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 lays down specific provisions for the exercise of the EU’s rights for the application and enforcement of international trade rules, in particular those established under the auspices of the WTO. A recent example is the EU’s adoption of additional customs duties on products from the US, including Harley Davidson motorbikes, in July 2018, in response to the US imposition of additional tariffs on imports of steel products from inter alia the EU.

In practice, for most trading partners, the measures the EU is able to take outside the WTO framework are limited to bilateral talks.

Private-sector support

What support does the government expect from the private sector to bring a WTO case?

For the EU to bring a case to the WTO DSB, there must be a severe and clear enough infringement of the obligations of the third country that have a material impact on EU industry. Also, the EU considers the level of the infringement and the effects on the wider EU economy. In principle, the European Commission relies on industry to provide relevant market and industry facts and information, but does not expect any particular legal support from the private sector in order to bring a WTO action.

Notable non-tariff barriers

What notable trade barriers other than retaliatory measures does your country impose on imports?

Generally, the EU does not maintain non-tariff barriers on imports. There are, however, import requirements, such as customs clearance formalities, and for certain products licensing, registration, classification, labelling and packaging requirements, at EU and member state level, for reasons of public health or safety, including military items, certain dual-use items, endangered species, waste, biocides and other chemicals.

Import restrictions exist for instance at national level for certain military items.

At EU level, the following goods are among those subject to non-tariff import restrictions and possibly intra-EU transfer restrictions:

  • endangered species: Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1431359714963&uri=CELEX:01997R0338-20141220);
  • timber: Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 laying down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32010R0995);
  • waste: Regulation (EC) No. 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1431360214820&uri=CELEX:02006R1013-20140526); and
  • certain chemical substances and mixtures: Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 (Text with EEA relevance) (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:02008R1272-20180301).