Free circulation of goods within the EEA

Quantitative restrictions on imports and exports of goods and all equivalent measures are prohibited in the EEA.

The principle

The fundamental principle of the free movement of goods within the EEA means that all quantitative import and export restrictions, as well as measures having an equivalent effect, must be removed. A number of exceptions exist. 

In practice, this means that the EEA States cannot limit imports or exports of products to or from other EEA States, unless they can justify their restrictions under a specific exception.

The term “measures having equivalent effect” has been interpreted broadly by the EFTA Court and the European Court of Justice to include all measures that may hinder, actually or potentially, trade in goods within the EEA. In recent case law, the European Court of Justice has indicated that any measure that makes market access more difficult will fall foul of the free movement principle (Article 34 of the TFEU and Article 11 of the EEA Agreement).

The principle of the free movement of goods also means that all goods which have been lawfully placed on the market in one EEA State must be allowed to be placed on the market of the other EEA States without having to satisfy any further tests or authorisation procedures. This is generally referred to as “mutual recognition”.


An EFTA State can only restrict imports of a product from another EEA State on the basis of an exception. Exceptions include:

  • protection of public health
  • public safety
  • protection of the environment

In addition, the restrictions must not be discriminatory and they must be necessary and proportionate to the aims they seek to achieve. The burden of proving that the measures fulfil those requirements lies with the EFTA State seeking to introduce or maintain the restriction.

In order to ensure that the free movement of goods is not infringed by the EFTA States, technical regulations must be notified in draft to the Authority. For more information see the section on Draft Technical Regulations.

In the absence of specific legislation, the provisions of the EEA Agreement prohibit Member States from imposing or maintaining restrictions on the free movement of goods except in exceptional cases, such as where there are risks to public health or the environment.

Relevant links

Other EEA Institutions

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