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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, Sweden 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 widely practised : 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 Sweden 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 Sweden, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the goods which are exported to Sweden 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 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 rate of a 0% 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 foreign trade agreements in 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 Sweden, please check the list of vat rates applied within the European Union, as well as the Customs web site.

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



The Swedish market is often at the forefront for penetrating Scandinavian markets as well as the Baltic countries. Thus, numerous European companies are present in this competitive market. Swedish consumers (excluding the upper classes) are very price conscious and are largely attracted by medium end products.
In 2004, Swedish retail business reached to 45.2 billion euros, a growth of 3.3% as compared to 2003.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
The Swedish market for consumer goods is very structured though there is a large number of specialised retailers. Food distribution, for example, is concentrated around 3 groups:
- Ica Sveridge AB (group Ahold) with 1883 retail outlets and had a growth of 4% in 2003.
- Axfood AB, with 883 retail outlets, is specialised in "soft discount", i.e. large sized discount stores.
- Coop Sveridge AB (KF) , (KF), with 879 retail outlets which grew by 1.3% in 2003. It is losing its market-share.
These 3 groups accounted for 74.3% of the retail food business in the country and 94.5% of organised distribution in 2003. However, a new group has recently appeared: Bergendalhs with 139 retail outlets which had a growth of 26.7% in 2003.

The non-food sector is dominated mainly by Swedish groups such as (H&M in clothing and IKea in furniture). However, some new foreign brands are establishing themselves progressively in Sweden (for example Mango and Zara in the clothing sector).
Generally speaking, the Swedish market has followed the same evolution pattern as that of western countries in the past 20 years, i.e. the emergence of large shopping centres often situated on the outskirts of big cities. Their growth is often detrimental to the interest of retailers situated in the city centres.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
The Swedish industrial textile sector is largely dependent on big multinational groups like Ericsson, Volvo, ABB, SKF, Electrolux and Ikea. This strong dependence on these big groups explains in part the lack of a development policy for SME/SMI (small and medium sized enterprises /industries).

The sale and distribution of imported products in Sweden is either undertaken by the importer himself or by an agent. However, franchising has become a widely popular distribution system, resulting in significant cost reductions. Eliminating the margins of intermediaries such as agents allows for a reduction in prices, to the benefit of consumers. In 2004, there were 300 franchise networks and 12,000 franchisees, which achieved a total turnover of 9 billion euros.

Sweden is further characterised by high taxes, mainly a tax on the rich, dividend taxes, and ever increasing capital gains taxes.
However, this problem has come to the notice of the government which is making concerted efforts to attract new investors. The role of promoting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in Sweden has been assigned to the"Invest in Sweden Agency" (ISA) which provides assistance to companies interested in setting up in the country. Investment in the Swedish market is invariably profitable in the long term. Current growth sectors are ready-to-wear and home decor,as well as numerous opportunities in the fields of wine, chocolate, fresh fruits and vegetables.


Transportation of goods

By road
The road network extends over 210,500 km of which 98,000 km are state-owned. The state network includes 9,800 km of main roads, 4,900 km of highways, and 83,500 km of secondary roads. The department in charge of the road transportation is the Vägverket with the help of the Swedish National Road Administration (SNRA), a state-owned company. Both of them handle the maintenance of the roads, infrastructure and development projects.

By rail
The rail network extends over 15,003 km of which 67% are electrified. The state infrastructure represents more than 80% of the total network.
The main cities of the country are connected with each other: 4 hours are needed to go from Stockholm to Malmö and 6 hours to go from Stockholm to Göteborg. The department handling the railway transportation (Banverket - BV) plans the construction of various high speed tracks throughout the country. The state infrastructure represents more than 80% of the total network.

By sea
The sea transport is vital for Sweden due to its 2,700 km of coasts and its numerous islands. Almost the entire international and half the internal business is carried out by sea. The main ports are Göteborg: 30.7 million tons of freight in 1998, Helsingborg- 10.1 million tons of freight in 1998, Trelleborg- 9.6 million tons of freight in 1998, Luela- 7 million tons of freight in 1998. All the Swedish ports and their current operations are under the custody of the Swedish Maritime Administration, a state-owned company.

By air
Sweden owns 3/7th of the SAS company capital, along with Denmark and Norway. SAS controls 90% of the air market in the region and the rest of the market is shared between 2 private airline companies: Malmö aviation and Transwede. The main airports are Stockholm (Arlanda), Göteborg (Landvetter) and Malmö (Sturup).


The Swedish Institute of Standardisation (Standardiseringen i Sverige (SIS) is the organisation in charge of drafting rules for standardisation and approval in Sweden.
The other important organisations are : National Administration of the Food ( Statens Livsmedelsverk), the Swedish Electric Committee (Svenska Elektriska Kommissionen) or the National Institute of Product Trials (Sveriges Provnings och Forskningstitut).
The standard ISO 9000, although optional is a factor for competitiveness.

Patents and brands

The organisation responsible for the protection of intellectual property in Sweden is the Swedish Patent and Registration Office.
Sweden signed the agreement of Paris concerning the protection of industrial property and the agreement which establishes the World Intellectual property Organization (WIPO). In terms of patents, they ratified the agreement of Munich for European patents, as well as the Patent Co-operation Treaty.
The country signed the Agreement of Madrid relating to the international Register of trademarks, and also signed the Nice agreement concerning the classification of goods and services. Sweden signed the Agreements of Vienna on International Classification of the Representational Elements of Trademarks.
Patents are protected on payment of annual fees. Trademarks have an unlimited protection as regards to the payment of annual rights and technical design are protected for 20 years.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Patent Act - Period of validity of 20 years
Trademark Trademarks Act - Period of validity of 5 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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