What are trade barriers?

Trade barriers unjustifiably prevent your business succeeding in exporting. You may have different ways of describing them. They all mean the same thing.

They’re often called:

  • red tape
  • roadblocks to export
  • price controls
  • subsidies
  • government rules/procedures
  • arbitrary rules and decisions
  • goods delayed at the border
  • hold-ups at Customs
  • container stuck on the wharf
  • biosecurity rules
  • restrictions on repatriating profits
  • local ownership rules
  • a cost of doing business.

Types of trade barriers: tariff and non-tariff

Tariff barriers can include a customs levy or tariff on goods entering a country and are imposed by a government. Free trade agreements seek to reduce tariff barriers.

You can see what reductions may apply to your products  from New Zealand’s free trade agreements at the Tariff Finder(external link) 

Non-tariff barriers can include excessive red tape, onerous regulations, unfair rules or decisions, or anything else that is stopping you from competing effectively.

Non-tariff barriers can affect all forms of goods and services exports – from food and manufactured products, through to digital services.

Examples of barriers

  • administrative procedures

  • quantity restrictions (such as quotas)

  • licensing requirements

  • data storage requirements

  • privacy requirements

  • board director requirements

  • procurement rules

  • price controls

  • subsidies

  • product labelling requirements

  • phytosanitary or technical regulations and standards.

We may be able to find a solution if you register the barrier.

Register a trade barrier

Government agencies may be able to reduce, resolve or even prevent them from happening. There are several ways this may be done - government officials can talk through the issues with overseas agencies; or, longer-term, free trade agreement negotiations can be held.

Some barriers can be cleared up quickly, but others can take several years to resolve. It depends on their nature and the willingness of the foreign partner to sort them out. Some may never be resolved for reasons beyond New Zealand’s control.

Sometimes regulations exist for good reasons – for example, to protect public health or the environment.  In those cases, foreign governments may agree that New Zealand’s regulations provide equivalent protection. Or they may improve their regulations so they meet their purpose without impeding free trade.


Watch: What is a non-tariff barrier? 

Watch: Helping exporters overcome non-tariff barriers

Non-tariff measures

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also provides background on non-tariff measures. Non-tariff measures are regulations put in place for good reasons. Understanding these may also help you understand the issues you face.

UNCTAD: Non-tariff measures data(external link)

The Integrated Intelligence Portal (I-TIP) is a single entry point for information  compiled by the World Trade Organisation.

I-TIP: Trade in goods(external link) 

I-TIP: Trade in services(external link)

Customs help for exporters

Customs can help with advice on a range of export issues that can make it easier for businesses to export.

Secure Exports Scheme(external link)

Free trade agreement interactive guides(external link)

New Zealand Customs factsheets(external link)