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Importing goods from overseas can be risky business. There are number of legal issues which arise when dealing with business partners from overseas and these issues are magnified when importing goods.

As well as making sure you have a successful relationship with your importer and are complying with the relevant laws, you need to familiarise yourself with the legal framework when importing goods from another country.

This article is intended for Australian businesses which use, market or sell goods that they have imported from a business overseas. It provides an introduction to the key legal issues and laws which you need to be aware of when you are importing goods.

Australian Law Applies

For starters, there can often be confusion about which national law applies when goods are crossing national boundaries, however other than very small quantities imported just for personal use, all consumer goods brought into Australia must be done in accordance with Australian law.

Make sure you’re aware of your obligations under the Australian Consumer Law!


There is no general requirement for importers to hold a government licence in order to import goods.  Although, under some circumstances you may need special permits to allow for clearance of the goods at the Australian border.  The most common types of permits include import, tradegate and quarantine fees.  You must comply with the relevant laws under the different categories of fees to ensure your goods are imported as you planned.

Dangerous Goods

If the goods being imported contain certain chemicals or poisons which may harm people, you will be subject to a wide range of legal obligations which apply to the transportation, packaging, handling, storage and labelling of such goods.  Typical goods in this category include cleaning products, poisons, industrial chemicals and agricultural chemicals.

Goods Registration

There are some imported goods which need be registered if they are classified as “therapeutic.”  If your goods are considered therapeutic, then you will need to register the goods in accordance with Therapeutic Goods Administration laws.

“Therapeutic Goods” include any products which claim to have therapeutic affects including complementary medicines, medical devices and pharmaceuticals.  Under “Therapeutic Goods” legislation, the importer of the goods is considered to be a ‘sponsors’.

Depending on the product, you may have certain obligations relating to compliance, licensing and notification requirements.  Sponsors also have the burden of showing relevant evidence to support any claims made about the product on its packaging and advertising.

You should be aware that there may be further compliance and registration obligations if you are importing chemicals to be used in the industrial, agricultural or veterinary sectors.

Signing a Contract with an Overseas Company

One of the best ways to mitigate the risks of dealing with an overseas exporter is to have an export or import agreement which protects your interests.

An export or import agreement will set out the terms of your arrangement and, once signed, becomes a legally binding contract between you and the other party.

There are a number of terms which you should consider when drafting or reviewing your agreement with the exporter, including:

  • which laws will apply to the agreement;
  • any intellectual property rights to business logos, trademarks and branding;
  • when legal title and risk passes from the exporter to you;
  • how payments will be made; and
  • who has liability for any defective products.


If you are importing goods from overseas, you should consider speaking with a business lawyer to ensure that your business risks are lowered and that you are protected as much as possible!

A business lawyer can provide you with advice to ensure that you are complying with the relevant laws and help you draft an agreement between you and your exporters to ensure that you receive products of good quality and on time.


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