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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, Portugal 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 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 Portugal is part, has been a single market, without any custom 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 goods into Portugal, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the merchandises which are exported to Portugal 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 custom tariffs 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 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 for developing countries in Africa, the 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 VAT rates in Portugal, please check the list of vat rates applied within European Union .

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



The modern distribution market started in Lisbon in 1961 with the opening of the first supermarket. Since then, the market has grown considerably, thereby eliminating a number of local small stores.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
Portugal is a European country where the various forms of modern distribution appeared very late. Until 1985, there were practically no hypermarkets and supermarkets and the distribution market was represented by a myriad of small retailers and traditional stores. Today, things have changed: in 2004, hypermarkets represented 37% of the total turnover of the distribution market, supermarkets represented 28%, neighbourhood supermarkets represented 18.3% and neighbourhood food stores represented 1.4%.
4 large groups share the market.
- the group Modelo-Continente part of the Potugese Sonae group which is specialized in hypermarkets and has now become the leader in the food distribution market in Portugal.
- the group Jeronimo Martins with a turnover of 3.4 billion euros in 2004 and is the 2nd largest distributor in Portugal with stores like Pingo Doce and Feira Nova.
- the French group Auchan present in Portugal since 1970 achieved a turnover of 1.04 billion euros in 2003.
- the French group Carrefour with a turnover of 470 million euros in 2004 operates 1 hypermarket and 270 supermarkets.
These companies are part of the Portuguese Association of Distribution Companies (APED) .

The other major visible trend in the last few years has been the development of large retailers such as the Belgian group Bricodis, the Scandinavian group Habitat, and the French group FNAC which have have established themselves in the country.
Thus in the coming years, such changes will inevitably result in a continuing decline in the market-share of traditional retailers, and an increase in the various forms of modern distribution such as hypermarkets and supermarkets which will be increasingly expanding their range of products and services in the non-food sector.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
The regions of Lisbon and Porto constitute an important part of the economic activity of the country. Portugal is a country that is attracting more and more investors because of its economic vitality and the numerous advantages granted by the government to foreign operators. However, foreign direct investment in 2004 was worth only 1.1 billion dollars as against 6.55 billion dollars in 2003, which is a decline of 83%.
ICEP, the Portuguese Agency for Development, is responsible for providing information and services to foreign investors.
Sectors such as construction, the environment, medical equipment, information technology; communications, fishing, and transportation are the growth oriented sectors at the moment. One of the solutions often advised as the first approach toward entering this market is to appoint a local agent who can also respond to public tenders.

The franchise market is constantly developing in the country. There were 370 franchise networks and more than 7,800 franchise outlets in the country at the end of 2003. 49.5% of all franchises were clothing stores (Zara, El Corte Ingles, Cortefiel, etc) and 40% were service establishments. 41% of all franchises are of Portuguese origin, 24% Spanish, 11% American , 8.3% French, and 4.3% are of Italian origin.


Transportation of goods

By road
The road network extends over 9,678 km of main roads, 28,292 km of secondary roads, 25,793 km of small regional roads, 587 km of highways and 685 km of freeways. The road network is presently in a poor state and requires considerable improvements especially in the North and South of the country. Until now the Portuguese government and the Department for Ground Transportation (DGTT Direcçao Geral de Transportes Terrestres), used to handle road infrastructure to the detriment of others. They now focus on the modernisation of the same structures thanks to the grant of European aids for the development of the country's infrastructures.

By rail
The rail network extends over 3,184 km, of which 451 km are single tracks. The former national railroad company, the CP (Caminhos de Ferro Portugueses) is responsible for the rail transportation and infrastructure except for Lisbon and Porto.
Lisbon and Porto are connected with an electrified double track of a very good quality. The railway transport dominates goods transportation (1,825.7 tons km in 1994). Important investments are now planned - thanks to direct financing of the European Union to improve the electrification and the rehabilitation of long distance main routes: Lisbon - Porto, Lisbon-Algarve and towards Spain in the North and the West, and also to develop suburban services with subways and regional transport. In that sense, Portugal remains a very good opportunity for European companies specialised in these sectors.

By sea
The main ports are Lisbon, Leixoes in Porto, Sines and Setùbal-Sesimbra. The secondary ports are Aveiro, Funchal (Madeira) and Ponta Delgada. In order to cope with the lack of infrastructure and competition from Northern Europe, a White Paper was brought up in the beginning of 1997 by the Portuguese authorities. It foresees some revision of the status of the port administration, the encouragement to the private sector and modernisation of port infrastructure.

By air
The main airports are Portela ( Lisbon), Francisco Sa Carneiro (Porto) and Faro ( Algarve), followed by Santa Catarina (Madeira) and Santa Maria. In 1999, 109,000 tons of freight were handled by Lisbon's airport, which recorded a drop of 2.3% as compared to that of 1998.


The Portuguese Qualitative (IPQ) institute is the body responsible for almost all normalisation procedures. However, some products are still bound to other organisations, such as the Institute of Electromechanical engineering and Energy ( IEE) and the Institute for the Protection of the Food-processing Products.
EU standards are compulsory.
The ISO 9000 standard is optional, but remains a proof of competitiveness.

Patents and brands

The Body responsible for the protection of intellectual property is theInstituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial.
Portugal signed the agreement of Paris regarding the protection of industrial property and the agreement establishing the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). In terms of patents, Portugal ratified the agreement of Munich for European patents, as well as the treaty of co-operation in patents ( PCT).
With regards to trademarks, Portugal signed the agreement of Madrid.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Industrial Property Code. Decree-Law No. 16/95 January 24, 1995 20 years :
Trademark Industrial Property Code. Decree-Law No. 16/95 January 24, 1995 10 years :
Design Industrial Property Code. Decree-Law No. 16/95 January 24, 1995 25 ans :


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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