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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, Germany 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 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-harmfulness of products.


Customs duties
Since the first of January 1993, the European Union, of which Germany 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 Germany, exporters shall fill in an intrastat declaration.

When the country of origin of the merchandises which are exported to Germany 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 of a 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 Germany, 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.



With more than 82 million people, the German market is the largest and most important in Europe. It is both very competitive and segmented, with supply-side saturation in many sectors and for many products. Quality and service are of the utmost importance in this market. The main trading areas of the country North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden Wurtenberg, Bavaria, Hamburg, Berlin and Hanover, as well as Leipzig in the former East Germany.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market

The structure of German distribution is characterised by:
- a large number of small independent shops
- a low level of concentration in each sector, compared to the main European markets (France, United Kingdom, Belgium)
- a predominance of distribution in city centres and urban areas
- a low number of hypermarkets
- a predominance of discount stores and the importance of distance selling (mail order, e-commerce, teleshopping).

German distribution is divided up according to the following distribution channels:

Distribution channel
Traditional retail trade
Specialised superstores
Non-food shop chains
DIY superstores
Mail Order
Department stores
Sources: Ifo-Institut & destatis

The top three German distribution groups are Metro, Rewe and Edeka/Ava.
Discount stores are the leading format for food distribution, registering a growth of approximately 10% and generating 40% of total food sales. The growth in the number of discounters, such as Lidl and Aldi has forced distributors to wage a price war: thus, insufficient margins risk slowing down the modernisation of sales outlets and the development of new distribution concepts. The relationships between the distributors and their suppliers, reputed to be very difficult, have become even more strained. A trend toward consolidation has developed, and groups such as Karstadt-Quelle, Edeka-Tengelmann and discounters such as Wal-Mart have engaged in severe competition, resulting in a lowering of suppliers' margins.

Classification of the top ten German distributors in 2003

Companies Turnover (Million €, 2003)
1- Metro Gruppe 32,232
Real 8,314
Metro C+C 6,498
Kaufhof 4,356
Extra 3,050
Others 10,014
2- Rewe Gruppe 30,373
Rewe AG 27,764
Rewe Dortmund 2,609
3- Edeka/AVA-Gruppe 29,090
Edeka Großhandlung 25,585
AVA-Gruppe 3,505
4- Aldi-Gruppe 24,000
Aldi Nord 12,000
Aldi Süd 12,000
5- Schwarz-Gruppe 21,500
Lidl 11,500
Kaufland 10,000
6- Karstadt Quelle 15,500
Stationary retail 8,190
Mail Order 7,310
7- Tengelmann-Gruppe 13,108
Plus 6,028
Kaiser’s 2,542
Others 4,538
8- Spar AG 9,000
9- Lekkerland-Tobaccoland 8,230
10- Schlecker 5,600
Sources: Lebensmittel Zeitung, Top 10 Deutschland 2003


The Business to Business (B to B) market
To sell in Germany, it is vital to be represented on a regional level, either by independent regional agents, or by a national organisation with regional support. Regional division usually corresponds with the Länder. However, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria can be divided into two areas each, owing to their very large size.
Germany is the world's leading country for the organisation of trade exhibitions and fairs: these events are vital for a company to make a name for itself, find out who its competition is, find new customers, and develop loyalty among longer-standing ones. One benchmark exhibition is EUROSHOP, the premier worldwide retail distribution exhibition, with almost 1,500 exhibitors. The cities which stage international trade fairs are: Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hanover, Munich, Nuremberg, Berlin, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Essen.
In addition, regional exhibitions are held all over Germany, generally smaller and which are organised by either distributors or agents.


Transportation of goods

By road
The German road network covers more than 238,000 km of roads of which more than 11,000 km are toll free highways.
On highways, tax for industrial vehicles having an authorised total weight exceeding 12 tons is effective since 1995. Rates are established per day, week, month or year and consist in a subscription which entitles to a certificate which the driver must show.

By rail
The railroad network extends over 44.500 km of lines and transported 290 million tons of goods in 1999.
The public railway Deutsche Bahn company works as a private firm since 1995.

By sea
The main German ports are: Hamburg, Rostock, Bremen and Duisburg.

By air
The airport of Frankfurt, the most important, ensures 70% of the air freight. It ranks 9th in the world due to the quantity of freight transported in 1999 which represent 1,600,000 tons. The other main international airports are Munich, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf.


The 2 products certification and normalisation reference bodies for a company willing to export to Germany are the TÜV and the Deutsches Institut für Normung ( DIN) which is a member of the European Committee of Normalization ( CEN), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation.
All German technical rules (about 24,000 standards) are included in the DIN catalogue, and standards are inspected at least every 5 years. If a standard does not correspond anymore to the requirements, it is worked on. If it is not updated anymore, it is suppressed with no substitution. Standards can be used by anyone, but they are not compulsory. However, the State can base itself on certain DIN standards to establish enforced national standards.

Patents and brands

The body in charge of the protecting intellectual property in Germany is the Deutsches Patent-und Markenamt ( DPMA).

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent PatAnwO 1966 Initial period of validity of 3 years Extension of period 20 years in the term of initial period
Trademark MarkenG 1995 Period of validity of 10 years Renewable indefinitely


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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