India is doing away with a compulsory licensing requirement for laptop and tablet importers and will instead only require registration in a system.

India is doing away with a compulsory licensing requirement for laptop and tablet importers and will instead only require registration in a system. Source: Shutterstock

Is India easing limitations on the imports of laptops and tablets?

  • India is doing away with a compulsory licensing requirement for laptop and tablet importers and will instead only require registration in a system.
  • The new rules won’t limit inbound shipments for six to nine months.
  • A quota on imports could gradually kick in and will depend on the foreign companies’ rate of local manufacturing.

About a month ago, Tech Wire Asia reported the latest trade-busting measure announced by India whereby companies will require licenses for the imports of laptops, tablets, and personal computers from November onwards. The move, which was initially announced to be effective immediately in August, hit the likes of Apple, Dell, and Samsung hard. India’s move was intended to boost local manufacturing and encourage domestic consumption. 

The licensing regime, announced abruptly on August 3, aimed to “ensure trusted hardware and systems” enter India, reduce dependence on imports, boost local manufacturing, and, in part, address the country’s trade imbalance with China. But the move led to a swathe of industry objections, and the initial plan was quickly delayed by about three months. The changes gave foreign companies importing tech devices into India till November to prepare.

Now, it seems like India is changing its stance once again – and at this point, it looks like the government is unsure if they should go forward with the licensing regime. On September 23, the Economic Times (ET) reported that the Indian government will likely not implement its planned import curbs on items falling under the HSN 8741 category, including laptops, tablets, servers, etc.

According to media reports on the previous day, September 22, the Indian government was considering granting IT hardware giants, such as Apple, HP, Lenovo, and Dell, a one-year extension before the enforcement of import license requirements, originally slated to take effect on November 1, 2023. In short, licensing requirements for importing seven items into India, including laptops, tablets, and PCs, will now be implemented starting November 1, 2024.

The extension, which can be understood as a one-year grace period, aims to allow those foreign companies to establish localized production capacity, a key objective for the Indian government. However, what needed to be clarified was whether the government would delay the implementation of the import restrictions by a year or abandon it altogether.

Among the seven categories restricted for imports by India, a significant majority of the imports are attributed to China. Based on data shared by India Briefing, during April-May 2023, India’s imports from China for these restricted categories were valued at US$743.56 million, reflecting a 5.6% decrease from US$787.84 million in the corresponding period of the previous year. 

The highest share of imports among these categories is in the segment of PCs, including laptops and palmtops. For this category, imports from China amounted to US$558.36 million in April-May 2023, compared to US$618.26 million in the same period last year. China constitutes approximately 70-80% of India’s total imports in the PCs and laptops segment.

So what’s next for India and the imports of laptops, PCs, and tablets?

The latest update stands at the possibility of India regulating inbound shipments of such products through an import management system instead of a licensing regime, officials aware of the details told ET. Currently, the government has decided that there won’t be any immediate import restrictions. Instead, from November 1 onwards, companies would only need to register on the upcoming import management system.

In simple terms, the new ‘imports management system’ will need companies to obtain ‘registration certificates’ for imports of laptops, tablets, and PCs into India. According to ET, quoting officials familiar with the matter, the system for import authorization will be established within the next six to eight months. This mechanism will allocate quotas to companies importing IT hardware

The officials also said that the government is assuring leading IT hardware brands that until October 2024, there will be no restrictions on the number of IT hardware products that can be imported. Ultimately, a quota on imports would kick in once companies begin to manufacture laptops, tablets, and other hardware locally. Various local reports indicated that the size of each company’s quota would depend on its local production, import of IT hardware, and export of such products from India, the people said.