Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization
Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures
Having regard to the Multilateral Trade Negotiations;
Desiring to further the objectives of GATT 1994;
Taking into account the particular trade, development
and financial needs of developing country Members;
Recognizing the usefulness of automatic import licensing
for certain purposes and that such licensing should not be used
to restrict trade;
Recognizing that import licensing may be employed to administer
measures such as those adopted pursuant to the relevant provisions
of GATT 1994;
Recognizing the provisions of GATT 1994 as they apply
to import licensing procedures;
Desiring to ensure that import licensing procedures are
not utilized in a manner contrary to the principles and obligations
of GATT 1994;
Recognizing that the flow of international trade could
be impeded by the inappropriate use of import licensing procedures;
Convinced that import licensing, particularly non-automatic
import licensing, should be implemented in a transparent and predictable
Recognizing that non-automatic licensing procedures should
be no more administratively burdensome than absolutely necessary
to administer the relevant measure;
Desiring to simplify, and bring transparency to, the administrative
procedures and practices used in international trade, and to ensure
the fair and equitable application and administration of such
procedures and practices;
Desiring to provide for a consultative mechanism and the
speedy, effective and equitable resolution of disputes arising
under this Agreement;
Hereby agree as follows:
Article 1: General Provisions
1. For the purpose of this Agreement, import licensing is defined
as administrative procedures 1 used for the operation of import
licensing régimes requiring the submission of an application
or other documentation (other than that required for customs purposes)
to the relevant administrative body as a prior condition for importation
into the customs territory of the importing Member.
2. Members shall ensure that the administrative procedures used
to implement import licensing régimes are in conformity
with the relevant provisions of GATT 1994 including its annexes
and protocols, as interpreted by this Agreement, with a view to
preventing trade distortions that may arise from an inappropriate
operation of those procedures, taking into account the economic
development purposes and financial and trade needs of developing
country Members. 2
3. The rules for import licensing procedures shall be neutral
in application and administered in a fair and equitable manner.
(a) The rules and all information concerning procedures for
the submission of applications, including the eligibility of persons,
firms and institutions to make such applications, the administrative
body(ies) to be approached, and the lists of products subject
to the licensing requirement shall be published, in the sources
notified to the Committee on Import Licensing provided for in
Article 4 (referred to in this Agreement as "the Committee"),
in such a manner as to enable governments 3 and traders to
become acquainted with them. Such publication shall take place,
whenever practicable, 21 days prior to the effective date of the
requirement but in all events not later than such effective date.
Any exception, derogations or changes in or from the rules concerning
licensing procedures or the list of products subject to import
licensing shall also be published in the same manner and within the same time periods
as specified above. Copies of these publications shall also be
made available to the Secretariat.
(b) Members which wish to make comments in writing shall be provided
the opportunity to discuss these comments upon request. The concerned
Member shall give due consideration to these comments and results
5. Application forms and, where applicable, renewal forms shall
be as simple as possible. Such documents and information as are
considered strictly necessary for the proper functioning of the
licensing régime may be required on application.
6. Application procedures and, where applicable, renewal procedures
shall be as simple as possible. Applicants shall be allowed a
reasonable period for the submission of licence applications.
Where there is a closing date, this period should be at least
21 days with provision for extension in circumstances where insufficient
applications have been received within this period. Applicants
shall have to approach only one administrative body in connection
with an application. Where it is strictly indispensable to approach
more than one administrative body, applicants shall not need to
approach more than three administrative bodies.
7. No application shall be refused for minor documentation errors
which do not alter basic data contained therein. No penalty greater
than necessary to serve merely as a warning shall be imposed in
respect of any omission or mistake in documentation or procedures
which is obviously made without fraudulent intent or gross negligence.
8. Licensed imports shall not be refused for minor variations
in value, quantity or weight from the amount designated on the
licence due to differences occurring during shipment, differences
incidental to bulk loading and other minor differences consistent
with normal commercial practice.
9. The foreign exchange necessary to pay for licensed imports
shall be made available to licence holders on the same basis as
to importers of goods not requiring import licences.
10. With regard to security exceptions, the provisions of Article
XXI of GATT 1994 apply.
11. The provisions of this Agreement shall not require any Member
to disclose confidential information which would impede law enforcement
or otherwise be contrary to the public interest or would prejudice
the legitimate commercial interests of particular enterprises,
public or private.
Article 2: Automatic Import Licensing 4
1. Automatic import licensing is defined as import licensing where
approval of the application is granted in all cases, and which
is in accordance with the requirements of paragraph 2(a).
2. The following provisions 5, in addition to those in paragraphs
1 through 11 of Article 1 and paragraph 1 of this Article, shall
apply to automatic import licensing procedures:
(a) automatic licensing procedures shall not be administered
in such a manner as to have restricting effects on imports subject
to automatic licensing. Automatic licensing procedures shall be
deemed to have trade-restricting effects unless, inter alia:
(i) any person, firm or institution which fulfils the legal
requirements of the importing Member for engaging in import operations
involving products subject to automatic licensing is equally eligible
to apply for and to obtain import licences;
(ii) applications for licences may be submitted on any working
day prior to the customs clearance of the goods;
(iii) applications for licences when submitted in appropriate
and complete form are approved immediately on receipt, to the
extent administratively feasible, but within a maximum of 10 working
(b) Members recognize that automatic import licensing may be
necessary whenever other appropriate procedures are not available.
Automatic import licensing may be maintained as long as the circumstances
which gave rise to its introduction prevail and as long as its
underlying administrative purposes cannot be achieved in a more
Article 3: Non-Automatic Import Licensing
1. The following provisions, in addition to those in paragraphs
1 through 11 of Article 1, shall apply to non-automatic import
licensing procedures. Non-automatic import licensing procedures
are defined as import licensing not falling within the definition
contained in paragraph 1 of Article 2.
2. Non-automatic licensing shall not have trade-restrictive or
-distortive effects on imports additional to those caused by the
imposition of the restriction. Non-automatic licensing procedures
shall correspond in scope and duration to the measure they are
used to implement, and shall be no more administratively burdensome
than absolutely necessary to administer the measure.
3. In the case of licensing requirements for purposes other than
the implementation of quantitative restrictions, Members shall
publish sufficient information for other Members and traders to
know the basis for granting and/or allocating licences.
4. Where a Member provides the possibility for persons, firms
or institutions to request exceptions or derogations from a licensing
requirement, it shall include this fact in the information published
under paragraph 4 of Article 1 as well as information on how to
make such a request and, to the extent possible, an indication
of the circumstances under which requests would be considered.
(a) Members shall provide, upon the request of any Member having
an interest in the trade in the product concerned, all relevant
(i) the administration of the restrictions;
(ii) the import licences granted over a recent period;
(iii) the distribution of such licences among supplying countries;
(iv) where practicable, import statistics (i.e. value and/or
volume) with respect to the products subject to import licensing.
Developing country Members would not be expected to take additional
administrative or financial burdens on this account;
(b) Members administering quotas by means of licensing shall
publish the overall amount of quotas to be applied by quantity
and/or value, the opening and closing dates of quotas, and any
change thereof, within the time periods specified in paragraph
4 of Article 1 and in such a manner as to enable governments and
traders to become acquainted with them;
(c) in the case of quotas allocated among supplying countries,
the Member applying the restrictions shall promptly inform all
other Members having an interest in supplying the product concerned
of the shares in the quota currently allocated, by quantity or
value, to the various supplying countries and shall publish this
information within the time periods specified in paragraph 4 of
Article 1 and in such a manner as to enable governments and traders
to become acquainted with them;
(d) where situations arise which make it necessary to provide
for an early opening date of quotas, the information referred
to in paragraph 4 of Article 1 should be published within the
time periods specified in paragraph 4 of Article 1 and in such
a manner as to enable governments and traders to become acquainted
(e) any person, firm or institution which fulfils the legal and
administrative requirements of the importing Member shall be equally
eligible to apply and to be considered for a licence. If the licence
application is not approved, the applicant shall, on request,
be given the reason therefor and shall have a right of appeal
or review in accordance with the domestic legislation or procedures
of the importing Member;
(f) the period for processing applications shall, except when
not possible for reasons outside the control of the Member, not
be longer than 30 days if applications are considered as and when
received, i.e. on a first-come first-served basis, and no longer
than 60 days if all applications are considered simultaneously.
In the latter case, the period for processing applications shall
be considered to begin on the day following the closing date of
the announced application period;
(g) the period of licence validity shall be of reasonable duration
and not be so short as to preclude imports. The period of licence
validity shall not preclude imports from distant sources, except
in special cases where imports are necessary to meet unforeseen
(h) when administering quotas, Members shall not prevent importation
from being effected in accordance with the issued licences, and
shall not discourage the full utilization of quotas;
(i) when issuing licences, Members shall take into account the
desirability of issuing licences for products in economic quantities;
(j) in allocating licences, the Member should consider the import
performance of the applicant. In this regard, consideration should
be given as to whether licences issued to applicants in the past
have been fully utilized during a recent representative period.
In cases where licences have not been fully utilized, the Member
shall examine the reasons for this and take these reasons into
consideration when allocating new licences. Consideration shall
also be given to ensuring a reasonable distribution of licences
to new importers, taking into account the desirability of issuing
licences for products in economic quantities. In this regard,
special consideration should be given to those importers importing
products originating in developing country Members and, in particular,
the least-developed country Members;
(k) in the case of quotas administered through licences which
are not allocated among supplying countries, licence holders 6
shall be free to choose the sources of imports. In the case of
quotas allocated among supplying countries, the licence shall
clearly stipulate the country or countries;
(l) in applying paragraph 8 of Article 1, compensating adjustments
may be made in future licence allocations where imports exceeded
a previous licence level.
Article 4: Institutions
There is hereby established a Committee on Import Licensing composed
of representatives from each of the Members. The Committee shall
elect its own Chairman and Vice-Chairman and shall meet as necessary
for the purpose of affording Members the opportunity of consulting
on any matters relating to the operation of this Agreement or
the furtherance of its objectives.
Article 5: Notification
1. Members which institute licensing procedures or changes in
these procedures shall notify the Committee of such within 60
days of publication.
2. Notifications of the institution of import licensing procedures
shall include the following information:
(a) list of products subject to licensing procedures;
(b) contact point for information on eligibility;
(c) administrative body(ies) for submission of applications;
(d) date and name of publication where licensing procedures are
(e) indication of whether the licensing procedure is automatic
or non-automatic according to definitions contained in Articles
2 and 3;
(f) in the case of automatic import licensing procedures, their
(g) in the case of non-automatic import licensing procedures,
indication of the measure being implemented through the licensing
(h) expected duration of the licensing procedure if this can
be estimated with some probability, and if not, reason why this
information cannot be provided.
3. Notifications of changes in import licensing procedures shall
indicate the elements mentioned above, if changes in such occur.
4. Members shall notify the Committee of the publication(s) in
which the information required in paragraph 4 of Article 1 will
5. Any interested Member which considers that another Member has
not notified the institution of a licensing procedure or changes
therein in accordance with the provisions of paragraphs 1 through
3 may bring the matter to the attention of such other Member.
If notification is not made promptly thereafter, such Member may
itself notify the licensing procedure or changes therein, including
all relevant and available information.
Article 6: Consultation and Dispute Settlement
Consultations and the settlement of disputes with respect to
any matter affecting the operation of this Agreement shall be
subject to the provisions of Articles XXII and XXIII of GATT 1994,
as elaborated and applied by the Dispute Settlement Understanding.
Article 7: Review
1. The Committee shall review as necessary, but at least once
every two years, the implementation and operation of this Agreement,
taking into account the objectives thereof, and the rights and
obligations contained therein.
2. As a basis for the Committee review, the Secretariat shall
prepare a factual report based on information provided under Article
5, responses to the annual questionnaire on import licensing procedures 7
and other relevant reliable information which is available to
it. This report shall provide a synopsis of the aforementioned
information, in particular indicating any changes or developments
during the period under review, and including any other information
as agreed by the Committee.
3. Members undertake to complete the annual questionnaire on import
licensing procedures promptly and in full.
4. The Committee shall inform the Council for Trade in Goods of
developments during the period covered by such reviews.
Article 8: Final Provisions
1. Reservations may not be entered in respect of any of the provisions
of this Agreement without the consent of the other Members.
(a) Each Member shall ensure, not later than the date of entry
into force of the WTO Agreement for it, the conformity of its
laws, regulations and administrative procedures with the provisions
of this Agreement.
(b) Each Member shall inform the Committee of any changes in
its laws and regulations relevant to this Agreement and in the
administration of such laws and regulations.
Continue on to
Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures
1 Those procedures referred to as "licensing"
as well as other similar administrative procedures.
2 Nothing in this Agreement shall be taken as implying
that the basis, scope or duration of a measure being implemented
by a licensing procedure is subject to question under this Agreement.
3 For the purpose of this Agreement, the term "governments" is deemed to include the competent authorities of the European
4 Those import licensing procedures requiring a security
which have no restrictive effects on imports are to be considered
as falling within the scope of paragraphs 1 and 2.
5 A developing country Member, other than a developing
country Member which was a Party to the Agreement on Import Licensing
Procedures done on 12 April 1979, which has specific difficulties
with the requirements of subparagraphs (a)(ii) and (a)(iii) may,
upon notification to the Committee, delay the application of these
subparagraphs by not more than two years from the date of entry
into force of the WTO Agreement for such Member.
6 Sometimes referred to as "quota holders".
7 Originally circulated as GATT 1947 document L/3515 of 23 March 1971.