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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, France applies the European Union (EU) rules that are in force in all the European Union countries. While the EC 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, to favour the development of the agriculture within the EC, implies a certain number of control and regulation systems of 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 packagings. 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 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 France is part, has been a single market, without any customs barriers, which ensures the 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 France, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the merchandises which are exported to France 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 France, please check the list of vat rates applied within the European Union, as well as the Ministry of Finances web site.

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



In 2004, retail trade was valued at 374 billion euros, which is a growth of 1.6% as compared to 2003. France has a very diversified and segmented market. Like all industrialized countries, its market is saturated in most sectors. The consumer is equally conscious of both price and quality of the product. Ile de France is, by far, the leading economic zone of the country but other cities like Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille are also developing fast.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market

France has a particularly diverse distribution network: in 2004, hypermarkets achieved 52.6% of the total turnover of the retail sector, supermarkets achieved 35.9%, and discount stores realized 11.5%. French law (the Royer law of 1973 is the best known) has restricted the increase in the number of hypermarkets in recent years which has led to consolidation, such as in 1998 when Carrefour merged with Promodès.
The principal distribution groups are:
- the group Carrefour-Promodès which achieved a turnover of 72.2 billion euros in 2004 and owns stores like Champion, Shopi, Coop, ED and Leader Price..
- the group Auchan with a turnover of 40.5 billion euros, mainly with hypermarkets like Atac and Mammouth.
- the group E.Leclerc which achieved a turnover of 27.2 billion euros.
- the group Casino with a turnover of 23.169 billion euros in 2005 and the owner of stores like Géant, Spar.
These big groups are increasing their business internationally ( Carrefour opened its 65th hypermarket in China in 2005) whereas other groups like Casino prefer the franchise system.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
France is one of the leading organisers of professional exhibitions and trade fairs. Each city has a Chamber of Commerce and Industry whose responsibility is to contact local companies. The business intermediaries could be distributors, agents or salaried representatives. A distributor (or a concessionary) is an individual or legal entity directly purchasing goods from a manufacturer in order to resell them. The distributor operates individually and is liable only to purchase a minimum stock of supplies as per the terms of the agreement. This agreement is subject to certain rules and regulations concerning exclusive distribution rights and pricing. Unlike distributors, agents do not buy products for resale but rather work on commission. A commercial agent is independent and has "freedom of movement" whereas a representative is bound by the work contract.


Transportation of goods

By road
The road network is very developed but most highways have sections with tolls. The road traffic of goods reached 183 billion tons - kilometres in 1999 what represents an increase of a 10% in relation to 1998. The road transport generates on its own 40% of the exports of goods from France and 23% of the imports. The French road network serves as a transit place for the North / South European exchanges. The motorway projects are managed by the Ministry of the Equipment and Transport.

By rail
The railroad network is one of the most developed in Western Europe. France is famous for its TGV (high-speed train), which connects Paris with most big cities of province, like Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux. The English Channel gave the opportunity to develop the railway freight between France and Great Britain and to decrease the length of the route. The cargo traffic that passed in transit through the tunnel increased from 1.35 Mt in 1995 to 3.1 Mt in 1998.
The national railroad company is the SNCF, which can ensure, in cooperation with the partners railroad networks, a high quality of logistic service in all the countries of Europe, in particular in Western Europe with the Thalys that connects Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.

By sea
In 1998, the recorded traffic in the French ports was of 300 Mt. The most important French ports are: Hanover, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Marseille, Nantes, Brest, Rochefort and Dunkerque.
The most important port for the transport of the goods is Hanover, which is located on the Western extremity of the European continent; it is the first port encountered by transoceanic vessels that serve the Northern Europe and the last calling port for vessels leaving Europe. The port reached, in 1998 , a traffic of 60 Mt, among which 1.2 millions TEU.
In 1999, this mean of transporting goods represented, in tonnage, 27% of the international exports from France and 52% of the imports.
The transportation via inland waterway notably on the pond of the Seine is developping, it represented a 12% increase in 2000.

By air
The domestic air network is extremely developed. Roissy Charles De Gaulle's airport is one of the biggest in Europe and is ranked among the first 10 airports in the world due to the quantity of freight annually transported (more than 1.2 million tons in 1999). It is also the most important hub in France, coveted by the biggest transportation and logistics companies, such as FedEx, which recently moved their European hub to Roissy. The air transport is particularly gluted in the Ile-de-France, that is the reason why the Ministry of Transport considers the creation of a 3rd international airport to stop the glut of the Paris region. {Roissy Charles De Gaulle}
However, the air transport represents in tonnage only 1% of the French imports and exports.
Please, consult the Web sites of the French airports.

Patents and brands

The rights on intellectual property are protected by patents, trademarks, design, models, and artistic and literary property are protected by copyrights. The Agreement of Paris and the Treaty of Washington protect rights of industrial property in France.
There are three types of patents: patents, patents of addition and certificates for utility innovation. Patents cover all the inventions whereas the patents of addition cover the additions of these inventions. The certificates of utility cover all the inventions except those of pharmaceutical nature. The invention should have an industrial or an agricultural application, and have an innovative character. The registration of patents must be made with the National Institute of the Intellectual property (INPI) and this latter studies and registers them. The protection in France can be obtained through the European patents. The recording in France requires a French address. The certificates of utility are also granted by the INPI.
The protection of trademarks can be made for products and services. The trademark recognises and protects the indicators used to distinguish a product or a service from another product or another service. The trademark can be written and indicate a brand, it can be a sound, must be recognisable by the shape and the sound and must be innovative. The life expectancy of this type of brand is of ten years and is renewable every ten years. The registration application has to be made with the INPI.
Designs and models have the following characteristics: the drawing is a set of features and of colours on a surface or a model. All models are creations. Both should have a new characteristic. The duration of protection is twenty five years. The exclusive rights of property are granted through the creation.
The copyrights cover artistic, literary and software works. The language used to express an idea should be original but not the idea in itself. The duration of protection is fifty years after the death of the author with two exceptions: the musical copyrights are valid for a duration of seventy years after the death of the author and the copyrights concerning softwares are valid twenty five after their creation. The artistic and literary rights are protected automatically once they are created in a tangible shape. But the recording is recommended. The recording should be made with the Authors, Composers and Music publishers Society (SACEM) (ASSOCIATION OF COMPOSERS AND MUSIC PUBLISHERS TO PROTECT COPYRIGHT AND ROYALTIES), with the National Syndicate of the Authors and Music composers (SNAC), with the Authors and Dramatic Composers Society (SACD), with the Humanities People Society (SGDL), with the Multimedia Authors Society(SCAM).

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Law on Patents 20 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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