Import licenses in the United States

The United States requires import licenses or permits for a limited number of product categories, most of which have not undergone significant changes over the past four years, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

As of March 2022, there were 19 such licenses in force for various products and for various purposes; most of them (17) were non-automatic licenses and two were automatic.

Licenses have long been required to implement tariff quotas for agricultural products (dairy products and sugar); to provide import protection against pests and diseases in animal and plant products; to prevent tax fraud (alcohol and tobacco products); and for other goods such as chemicals, firearms, explosives, nuclear materials, etc., for safety and security reasons.

In addition, a number of new and revised licensing measures have been adopted to monitor the import of certain steel and aluminum products.

The United States submitted two Article 5 notifications to the WTO on modifications to import licensing procedures for new or modified surveillance mechanisms: the Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) system and the Aluminum Import Monitoring and Analysis (AIM) system, which became effective in October 2020 and June 2021, respectively.

Import Licensing

The Department of Commerce implemented the AIM system, pursuant to the amended Census Act and joint declarations with Canada and Mexico regarding Section 232 duties on steel and aluminum, to facilitate the monitoring of aluminum imports (including import surges) and to prevent reshipment.

The AIM system is based on the SIMA system, which was modified during the period under review, although the United States has controlled the import of steel products through licenses since 2002.

The objective of the main changes made to the SIMA system was to require identification of the country in which the steel used in the manufacture of the imported steel product has been melted and poured; to harmonize the scope of product coverage with that of Section 232 tariffs; to clarify how import data obtained from licenses will be aggregated and reported to the public; and to formally modify the license threshold for low-value shipments (between USD 250 and USD 5,000) to bring it in line with current practices.


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