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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Preferential EU import tariffs for developing countries

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Preferential EU import tariffs for developing countries

The European Union’s scheme of generalised tariff preferences (GSP) allows developing countries to pay lower tariffs on their exports to the EU, which helps boost their economies.



In 2012, the EU agreed new rules to refocus this scheme, which has been in place since 1971. They make the system more transparent and predictable for beneficiary countries, especially in view of the changed global trade patterns over the past decade. The scheme is now directed at those countries in greatest need.

It does not include countries that already enjoy preferences under free trade agreements with the EU, or under ‘autonomous’ arrangements with the bloc (usually temporary, pending the conclusion of more comprehensive, longer-term agreements with the EU).


3 strands of the scheme

  • standard GSP – tariffs for goods imported from a developing country are reduced or suspended. Exception – this does not apply if a country has been classified by the World Bank as a high or upper-middle income country for 3 consecutive years immediately before the EU updates the list of beneficiary countries
  • GSP+ (incentive scheme) – even lower tariffs for countries which ratify and implement 27 specified international conventions covering human and labour rights, environment and good governance.
  • EBA (Everything But Arms), for least-developed countries – full tariff and quota-free imports for all goods from the UN-defined least developed countries (LDCs), except for arms.

Suspension of countries

The EU may temporarily suspend the lower tariffs for reasons such as:

  • violations of core principles in human and labour rights conventions
  • unfair trading practices
  • serious shortcomings in customs controls (e.g. export or transit of illegal drugs)
  • if the national law of a GSP+ beneficiary country no longer incorporates the relevant conventions (or that law is not effectively implemented).

Discontinuation as countries develop

Some countries can be poor but still develop highly competitive export industries. Once this happens, they no longer need preferences to successfully penetrate EU markets.

The GSP scheme therefore withdraws preferences from countries with such competitive product sectors on the basis of a ‘graduation’ mechanism.

More stable & predictable

The new GSP, because it lasts 10 years (it was 3 in the past), offers importers and exporters more stability and predictability.

Exporters know that, where changes are made in the beneficiaries' list, there are transition periods of at least 1 year. Countries now have the security of knowing that they can be removed from the beneficiary lists only if the UN lists them as high or upper-middle income 3 years in a row.

Temporary import restrictions

The EU may apply safeguard measures (temporary restrictions) if imports from beneficiary countries cause or threaten to cause ‘serious difficulty’ to an EU producer. It may also apply surveillance measures for farm products. None of these measures has ever been taken in the history of the scheme.


It entered into force on 20 November 2012.


Regulation (EU) No 978/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 applying a scheme of generalised tariff preferences and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 732/2008 (OJ L 303, 31.10.2012, pp. 1–82)

Successive amendments to Regulation (EU) No 978/2012 have been incorporated into the basic text. This consolidated version is for reference only.


Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1213/2012 of 17 December 2012 suspending the tariff preferences for certain GSP beneficiary countries in respect of certain GSP sections in accordance with Regulation (EU) No 978/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council applying a scheme of generalised tariff preferences (OJ L 348 of 18.12.2012, pp. 11-13). Applicable until 31 December 2016.

last update 13.12.2015