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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, Italy 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. The 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 Italy 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 country of origin of the goods is one of the 25 European Union Member States. Nevertheless, when introducing merchandises into Italy, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the merchandises which are exported to Italy 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 that was signed in 1972 with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

- Free trade agreements with Bulgaria and Romania that hope joining the 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 developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean Islands and Pacific. The Cotonou Agreement, signed in year 2000, defines the new EU-ACP partnership.

- The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP): 54% of the tariff lines 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 VAT rates in Italy, please check the list of VAT rates applied within the European Union, as well as the Ministry of Finances website.

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



In the past, Italian industries were not very competitive, which forced the Italian government to create entry barriers. However, since becoming part of the common market of the European Union, various sectors have been liberalised resulting in numerous new opportunities within the distribution sector. In 2004, retail business in Italy was valued at 328.5 billion euros, a growth of 1.2% compared to 2003.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
By tradition, Italians are faithful to neighbourhood stores. Modern distribution networks developed only a few years ago with the rapid development of international groups like Auchan/Rinascente and Carrefour. These groups benefited from the fact that the law governing the entry of such groups into this market was relaxed due to pressure from the European Union. The number one distribution group is Coop Italia with a network of more than 1,000 retail outlets in the country and enjoyed a 17.7% market-share in 2004. Carrefour Italia had 10% of the market-share and Auchan/Rinascente had 9.5%.
Generally speaking, foreign brands accounted for 47% of all hypermarkets in 2003. In 2004 the mass market was made up of 469 hypermarkets, 990 supermarkets and 6627 small supermarkets. The food distribution market is very consolidated since the ten largest groups controlled 77% of the market-share.
However, there is a large regional disparity in this sector as the northern part of the country accounts for more than 50% of all supermarkets and 65% of all hypermarkets. Accordingly, the large groups are now concentrating on the Southern part of the country which presents more growth opportunities.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
Italian industry is highly concentrated in the northern part of the country. The Lombardy region, whose center is Milan ( the financial and industrial capital of Italy), accounts for 25% of all companies. The Italian market is very competitive and profitability is the top priority.
Italy is home to the largest number of trade fairs and exhibitions in Europe, salons internationaux , providing an opportunity for exporters to make useful contacts. For example, the exhibition Boritech (International Exchange for Cooperation of Development and Investments) and salon pour la franchise which took place in Milan from 21st - 24th October 2005.


Transportation of goods

By road
The Italian road network extends over 300,000 km, among which 6,200 km are highways, 66% of the cargo traffic transits by road. Despite important gaps in terms of infrastructure, new projects are currently under study to improve road axis, such as the construction of the new East-West highway in the northern region of Italy.

By rail
The network extends over 20,000 km. 99% of goods transport is carried out by the public company Ferrovie dello Stato (FS). The rest being shared between 26 agencies managed by the Italian Ministry of Transport (Ministero dei Trasporti e della Navigazione - MTN). In August, 1992 the state-owned company was split into two independent companies: Trenitalia Spa which ensures the transportation (it was created in June 1st, 2000) and Reteilia Spa, which is in charge of the infrastructure, waiting for constitution. "FS's Divisione Cargo" is the main Italian operator of railway freight, and ranks third in Europe. Thanks to a very developed network of partnerships at the European level, the FS ensures the railway and multimodal transportation of goods almost on the whole continent.
The priority of the government remains the completion of the 900 km high speed trains railroads project in order to increase the traffic on the most used lines (Milan - Naples; Turin - Venice).

By sea
The main Italian ports are: Gioia Tauro, Gene, Spezia, Livourne and Naples, on the Mediteranean coast and Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, on the Adriatic rim.
The specialised harbour sector (containers) is sharply expanding and reaches a record rate of 22 million TEU (Twenty Feet equivalent Unites) in 2000. This represents a third of the container traffic in the Mediterranean Sea, this rate is forecasted to reach 30 million Teu in 2015. The strategic position of these main ports urges big world operators to take position on the terminals containing the country's ports of call (the Singaporean group PSA, German Eurogate-Eurokai and the Dutch-Hong-Kong owned company Ect), and therefore to increase their activities. New plans are under study to increase the accommodation facilities of the Italian calls.

By air
The national airline is Alitalia. The main international airports are located in Turin, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Roma, Naples and Palermo. To get the list of all the Italian national and international airports, please , click here. In 1999 , 250.531 tons of freight passed in transit via the airport of Milan, that is an increase of a 47 % in relation to the previous year.

Patents and brands

The Italian Patent and Trademark Office is the official organisation in charge of protecting the intellectual property in Italy.
Italy signed the Agreement of Paris for the protection of industrial property and the agreement that establishes the World Intellectual property Organization (WIPO). As for patents, Italy adhered to the Agreement of Munich for European patents, as well as to the treaty of co-operation in patents (PCT).
As for the specific question of trademarks, Italy signed the agreement of Madrid.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Law on Patents 1999 Period of validity of 20 years Renewable period


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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