Import regulations are a fact of life and while the details of them can and do change (especially with Brexit on the horizon), the general principles behind them tend to remain much the same and if you understand them then you will often be better able to adjust to changes as you will understand why the changes are being made. With that in mind, here are some basic principles behind import regulations.
To protect a country’s own industry
In all honesty, probably the single, biggest reason why countries have import regulations is to protect their own, local industry. Although globalisation has brought many benefits, it has also created many challenges. One of its major challenges has been the need to balance the advantages of being able to achieve lower prices by taking advantage of global manufacturing centres with the need to protect local industry. This isn’t just about national pride or nostalgia. It’s also about ensuring that a country retains key knowledge and skills on which it can later rely if the need arises. Basically it’s about not putting all a country’s eggs in one basket, especially not a basket which is actually owned by someone else.
To keep track of sensitive and/or hazardous goods
You may think of the term sensitive and/or hazardous goods as meaning dangerous industrial materials and it can do but it can actually have a wide variety of other meanings. For example, these days, the treatment of even non-hazardous waste can be a sensitive issue. Many countries are signing up to the principles of reducing, reusing and recycling and even committing to targets to reduce the amount of waste which is sent to landfill, but they are not necessarily being particularly effective at implementing these in reality.
For example, in mid-2019 there was an infamous diplomatic spat between the Philippines and Canada in which the former accused the latter of sending landfill waste deliberately mislabelled as waste for recycling. This case made headlines as the president of the Philippines threatened to declare war on Canada if they did not collect the waste and repatriate it. The waste was indeed returned and the war was averted.
On a similar note, many countries now put a lot of effort into policing the transport of environmentally-sensitive products to ensure that any products imported into their country are from legitimate sources rather than black-market products which have infiltrated the supply chain.
To ensure compliance with international agreements and local laws
There are a number of international agreements relating to the import process and with Brexit on the horizon, this number could be about to grow. In principle, it should only grow by one, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say one set, since the EU should act as a single trading block, although if other countries wind up following the UK out of the EU, then the number could increase further.
In addition to the international agreements, the UK has a number of local laws governing imports many of which revolve around safety and protection for consumers and businesses. The specific nature of the regulations will depend on the nature of the product, in fact, there may even by different regulations for different subtypes of product. For example, the rules for importing fresh meat and dairy products may be rather different to the rules for importing fresh fruit and vegetables which may again be different to the rules for importing canned foods.
Import regulations may also aim to protect both brands and consumers by protecting against the import of counterfeit goods which may not meet the same standards of quality and safety as their genuine counterparts.