In a recent case against China, the EU alleges that various "errors" have started to pop up in the processing Lithuanian goods by the Chinese customs. However, no explicit Chinese laws or regulations hindering Lithuanian goods have been mentioned in the EU complaint.

Has there been any remotely similar WTO case, in which alleged but not officially acknowledged trade barriers were the subject of the dispute? Were any such cases won by the complainant?

  • It wasn't concerning the Chinese law, it is about the practices of the Chinese custom to put barriers on processing Lithuanian goods at Chinese ports. I think the practices are designed to retaliate against Lithuanian's Taiwan stand.
    – r13
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 21:30
  • @r13: yes, I know that. But typically trade regulations or sanctions are in written form. If you look at (many) other WTO disputes, including a bunch of other against China, they point to a specific provision/barrier in this or that written regulation or similar paperwork. Possibly related though: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/75564/… Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 21:34
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    The answer is "yes", multiple times alleged and some won, which I know from memories of it having happened. But I won't answer until I can cite with references to specific instances.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 21:58
  • The category "unofficial trade barriers" is very vague. For instance, a lot of WTO cases are about subsidies, which may not be officially acknowledged (Governments may give money to a company without calling it a subsidy) but could be considered unofficial barriers to trade. If you mean specifically cases like Lithuania, where it is alleged that imports are being held up on technicalities, then the question should indicate specifically what kind of barriers you are interested in.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 14:45
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    It does not necessarily belong in economics, no. Economics would primarily be concerned at the economic impact of restricting, or promoting, trade. Not the policies by which various governments carry out trade restrictions. That's on topic here. In fact, I suspect economics would probably kick it back here. Or Law, as it is asking about WTO rulings. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


You'll find that similar little tactics have been done before.

In 1982 France was requiring imported VCRs to go through Poitiers (hint, inland, not major logistical hub) to get inspected. Along with telling the 2 custom agents there not to be in a hurry.

Eventually, France used another bureaucratic measure to try to shave down the Japanese advantage in its domestic market.

"The government has decreed that all imported video recorders must now be cleared by customs at Poitiers in central France," Bazay explained.

Bazay said that meant truckloads and trainloads of VCRs had to be inspected at a facility that had just two customs agents working there.

One agent has received instructions to get lost in paperwork," said Bazay. "The other is under orders to be extremely curious, to check the serial numbers of nearly every [VCR] set."

Didn't go to WTO but after a Japanese complaint, the ECJ/EC apparently issued an opinion stating that it was not unlike a quantitative limit.

Can't be that frequent however, the reason it stuck in my memory is that The Economist mentioned this again, about a decade later, as an example of amusing creative limits to trade.

Also, in the mid-80s IIRC there were also a number of rounds of Voluntary Export Restrictions arrived to by Japan, on US requests, concerning Japanese cars. Would be interesting to see how the background there lines up with this question.

Also, a good starting point for searching is the term Nontariff barrier.

Found this one, (WTO) Non-tariff barriers: red tape, etc:

Import licensing: keeping procedures clear Although less widely used now than in the past, import licensing systems are subject to disciplines in the WTO. The Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures says import licensing should be simple, transparent and predictable. For example, the agreement requires governments to publish sufficient information for traders to know how and why the licences are granted.

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