Guidance

Trade barriers: what you need to know

Find out what trade barriers are and how they may affect you when exporting goods or services.

A trade barrier is something that slows down or stops your company from exporting goods or services to an overseas market.

How to check for trade barriers

Check for barriers to trading and investing abroad to see if there are any trade barriers in your chosen market.

You will be able to see barriers to trade that:

  • may currently affect you exporting goods, providing services or investing in a specific country
  • have been resolved

About the Check for barriers to trading and investing abroad service

This is an information only service which does not indicate the ease or difficulty of trading with a particular market.

The trade barriers listed may not stop you from entering a market, you may wish to carry out your own research when making decisions.

We do not publish a complete list of reported trade barriers, as not all are suitable for publication. We do not publish barriers that:

  • can identify a company
  • affect imports into the UK
  • are sensitive, either politically or for security reasons
  • do not have enough information
  • need further investigation

Newly reported trade barriers will not appear immediately as they need to be reviewed. The ‘date reported’ on the service is the date trade barriers are added to our internal system.

For more information see the disclaimer.

How to report a trade barrier

Before you report:

If you need urgent help with a trade barrier

Consider contacting your local British embassy, consulate or high commission if your barrier requires urgent resolution, for example because you:

  • have perishable goods or livestock blocked in transit
  • are at immediate risk of missing a commercial opportunity
  • are at immediate risk of not fulfilling a contract

They may be better placed to help you because they understand local business practices and have the same local working hours.

What happens next

You’ll get an email from the Department for International Trade (DIT) within 5 working days of reporting a trade barrier. You may be asked for more information.

DIT might be able to help resolve your barrier. For example, overseas staff could use their relationships with local governments and organisations to find and resolve the cause of the delay.

For longer-term, more complex barriers, DIT may decide to:

  • explore a diplomatic resolution
  • discuss strategic barriers at overseas ministerial visits
  • start government-to-government talks
  • raise the barrier with the World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • feed into Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations

What is a barrier to goods

If you’re exporting goods, trade barriers can include:

  • customs procedures: for example, lengthy procedures that delay goods getting to market

  • problems with enforcing international rules and regulations: for example, a lack of regulatory measures for products or services, or non-compliance with WTO regulations

  • environmental, safety or quality regulations: for example, restricting goods that could be harmful to the local environment

  • government procurement restrictions: for example, conditions that give local businesses an advantage over foreign competitors in winning government contracts

  • import quotas or price controls: for example, limits on the amount of goods that can be imported

  • packaging, labelling or design regulations: for example, overly specific requirements for information that must be on packaging

  • poor protection of intellectual property rights: for example, failure to respect the legislation of patents, trademarks, industrial design, layout designs of integrated circuits, copyright, geographical indications or sharing trade secrets

  • requirements for goods to be locally produced: for example, a government demanding that a percentage of goods must be made domestically

  • restrictions on live animals, or animal and plant products: for example, a ban on a UK meat based on inaccurate ideas about animal health risks

  • requirements to use local assets, components or workers: for example, being required to train and use local workers

  • rules of origin issues: for example, problems with requirements for evidence demonstrating where goods were made

  • state-granted monopolies or exclusive rights: for example, a government granting one or more private companies the sole right to operate in a particular market

  • testing, inspection and certification procedures: for example, overly complex assessments to show produce complies with technical regulations or standards

  • unfair use of state help, subsidies or application of competition rules: for example, competition law applied in an unfair way to target foreign firms or protect domestic firms

What is a barrier to services

If you’re exporting services, trade barriers can include:

  • difficulty accessing data or restrictions on storing or sending data: for example, limits on cross-border transfer of personal information

  • problems with enforcing international rules and regulations: for example, a lack of regulatory measures for products or services, or non-compliance with WTO regulations

  • fees that only apply to foreign service suppliers: for example, unnecessary charges on foreign suppliers that give an advantage to domestic suppliers

  • government procurement restrictions: for example, the host government deliberately creating conditions that give local businesses an advantage over foreign competitors in winning government contracts

  • poor protection of intellectual property rights: for example, failure to respect the legislation of patents, trademarks, industrial design, layout designs of integrated circuits, copyright, geographical indications or sharing trade secrets

  • limitations on access to key infrastructure: for example, barriers to foreign service suppliers opening a local bank account or registering websites with a local domain name

  • local presence requirements: for example, requirements for a service supplier to be a resident or from a local enterprise

  • price controls: for example, controlling the price of imported services so they don’t have a price advantage over domestic services

  • qualification requirements: for example, a requirement for foreign suppliers to have local qualifications

  • restrictions on foreign entry or movement of people: for example, difficulty dealing with visa costs, arranging visas, residency or nationality requirements or restrictions on buying land as a foreign service supplier

  • restrictions on business structure: for example, requirements to operate under a certain structure as a business, legal entity or joint venture

  • restrictions on investment: for example, a limit on how much a supplier can invest in the country they’re exporting to

  • requirements to use local assets, components or workers: for example, being required to train and use local workers

  • restrictions on business names: for example, restrictions on service suppliers operating under a business name

  • state-granted monopolies or exclusive rights: for example, a government granting one or more private companies the sole right to operate in a particular market

  • taxes that protect or favour local suppliers: for example, import duties or taxes, other than tariffs, that favour domestic firms over foreign competitors

  • testing, inspection and certification procedures: for example, overly complex assessments to show compliance with technical regulations or standards

  • unfair use of state help, subsidies or application of competition rules: for example, competition law applied in an unfair way to target foreign firms or protect domestic firms

  • unfair advantages to state-owned enterprises: for example, special rights or privileges, government funding, or exemptions from laws and regulations being given to state-owned enterprises

Further information

Pages to provide additional help:

data.gov.uk: This is the government’s collection of data, here you can download a spreadsheet of all published trade barriers on the check for barriers to trading and investing abroad service.

Check how to export goods: Find information about how to move goods from the UK to the rest of the world, including rules, restrictions, taxes, duties and export documentation.

TRAINS: The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCAD) global database of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) based on official regulations.

ePing notifications: Set up email notifications with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to get early warnings of possible future trade problems.

Published 5 September 2019
Last updated 21 December 2020 + show all updates
  1. Added section on checking for an international trade barriers, link to the service and added further information section.

  2. First published.