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Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

In accordance with its European Union membership, Spain applies the European Union (EU) rules that are in force in all European Union countries. While the EU has a rather liberal foreign trade policy, there is a certain number of restrictions, especially on farm products, following the implementation of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy): the application of compensations on import and export of farm products, aimed at favouring the development of agriculture within the EU, implies a certain number of control and regulation systems for the goods entering the EU territory.
Moreover, for sanitary reasons, regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (after being allowed in the European territory), their presence should be systematically specified on packaging. Beef cattle bred on hormones is also forbidden to import.
The BSE crisis (often called the "mad cow disease") urged the European Authorities to strengthen the phytosanitary measures to make sure of the quality of meats entering and circulating in the EU territory. The principle of precaution is now more widespread: in case of doubt, the import is prohibited until proof is made of the non-harmfullness of products.


Customs duties
Since the first of January 1993, the European Union, of which Spain is part, has been a single market, without any customs barriers, which ensures free circulation of goods. On May, 1st of 2004, ten "candidate countries" became new members of the European Union: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia. Trade within the European Union is totally free from customs duties, provided that the merchandises' country of origin is one of the 25 European Union Member States. Nevertheless, when introducing merchandises into Spain, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the merchandises which are exported to Spain is not part of the European Union, customs duties are calculated Ad valorem on the CIF value of the goods, in accordance with the Common Customs Tariff (CCT).

The duties for non-European countries are relatively low, especially for manufactured goods (4.2% on average for the general rate), however textile, clothing items (high duties and quota system) and food processing industry sectors (average duties of a 17.3% and numerous tariff quotas, PAC) still know protective measures.
In order to get exhaustive regulations and customs tariffs rates regarding their products, exporters shall refer to the TARIC code and its database, which includes all applicable customs duties and all customs trade policy measures for all the goods.

Moreover, many bilateral and multilateral agreements have been signed by the European Union, in order to define specific customs duties with the following countries:

- Customs agreements with Australia, Canada, United States, Mexico and South Korea.

- The EU-EFTA (European Free Trade Association) Agreement was signed in 1972 with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

- Free trade agreements with Bulgaria and Romania that hope join European Union in 2007.

- Mediterranean Agreements, concerning: Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

- The ACP agreements, with 95% of the tariff lines with a 0% rate for developing countries in Africa, Caribbean Islands and Pacific. The Cotonou Agreement, signed in the year 2000, defines the new EU-ACP partnership.

- The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP): 54% of the tariff lines are at 0% for developing countries outside the ACP framework.

To get an exhaustive list of the foreign trade agreements of the European Union, click here.

>> To get further information on customs policies in the European Union, please check the exhaustive report by the European Commission.


Import taxes
Excise duties are also levied on certain products, especially on spirit.

>> To get further information on the VAT rates in Spain, please check the list of vat rates applied within European Union, as well as the Agencia Tributaria web site.

>> More detailed information on excise duties is available concerning alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, energy products on the European Commission website.



The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
The Spanish distribution is characterised by a very big number of retailers and traditional shops. The retail trade which employs about 2.5 million people and contributes to more than 13% of the Spanish GNP, constitutes one of the most dynamic branches of the Spanish economy. This is clearly demonstrated by the global turnover of 120 billion euros achieved by 620,000 retail shops existing in Spain (15,2 shops / 1,000 inhabitants) .
However, just the same as many other countries, distribution in Spain is changing mainly because of the development of new modes of distribution: the large-scale distribution which concentrates at the moment 10% of sales, specialised groups, etc... The consumer, whose purchasing power increased, indeed demands products of a good value for the money spent and asks for more services, especially with regard to payment terms.
On the 15 billion euro turnover achieved in 1998 by all hypermarkets, about 90% of the sales are coming from four big names, that are Carrefour, Alcampo, Eroski and Hipercor (whole subsidiary of the Corte Inglés group). This demonstrates the dimension of concentration in this sector.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
The process of privatisation that was initiated at the beginning of 1990's intensified and moved on to various sectors. Furthermore, the encouragement of liberalisation in sectors like telecommunications, electricity and natural gas should create new business opportunities.
The Spanish European Union membership facilitates the direct establishment of foreign investors under various forms ( representative office, subsidiary etc.). Indeed, the direct investment is only subject to an afterwards declaration, once the investment is made.
The main economic areas of Spain are Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Sevilla, Vigo's port and its free trade zones.


Transportation of goods

By road
The transportation of goods by road constitute 80 % of the total inland transport. The road network extends over 346.000 km. The road park consists of about 125 000 heavy vehicles that are divided into some 68.000 carriers. This sector suffers serious difficulties of marketing due to an excessive number of players ( About 2 lorries a carrier). The intracommunity business represents more than 90 % of the international exchanges on the Spanish roads
Since July 1st, 1998, the road transportation of goods, internal as well as international, is practically totally opened to competition.

By rail
The rail traffic in Spain represents only 2 % of the international traffic of goods and 5 % of the domestic traffic. The railroad network extends over 14.000 km. Two companies share the Spanish railways network: Renfe, state-owned, which handles " % of the transportation of goods, and the other in charge of narrow ways, is called Feve. The iron is especially borrowed (taken) by the steel-making products, the ores, the coal, the propane and the Calor gas.
The transportation of goods in receiver (notably the piggy back) is expanding. Every carrier established in an EC member country and holder of the "community license", can ensure it without any other formality.

By sea
At the end of 1996 , 238 freight vessels were registered at the Central Maritime Register. The Spanish harbour system has twenty six ports of general interest. The main ones are those of Algeciras, in the South of the Gibraltar bay, Barcelona, Cartagena, Bilbao and Valencia.
The main part of the Spanish commercial ports is accessible on Portel. The marine transport constituted in 1998 more than 70 % in volume of the international traffic (apart from the EU).


The Asociacion española normalizacion y certificacion (Aenor) is the organisation in charge of developing normalisation and certification activities. It works in accordance with the European standards. The Aenor is divided into 115 Technical Committees of Normalisation (CTN), each of which is responsible for the normalisation of specific products. The Aenor is a member of the various European organisations for normalisation, such as: the ECN (European Committee of Normalisation), the CENELEC (European Committee of electrotechnical normalisation) and the ETSI (European Telecommunication Standardisation Institute).
The standard ISO 9000 is a symbol of competitiveness, although optional.

Patents and brands

The organisation in charge of the registration of patents and trademarks is the Oficina Española de Patentes y Marcas.
Nowadays, any company or any private individual wishing to protect his invention in several European countries should appeal to the European Patent, created by the Agreement of Munich (1973). It is a common system of liberation of patents, of which management is ensured by the OEB, European Office of the patents, located in Munich.
Spain adheres to the agreement of Munich (on patents) and consequently recognises the European deposit.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Patent Law 1993 20 years -


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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