India again backs down on its controversial PC import restrictions

Desktops escape regulations, laptops and servers don't, no reasons explained

India’s Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has announced that import restrictions targeting PCs will not include desktop computers, adding another twist to the strange saga of the nation’s plan to require import licenses for many types of computers.

The plan emerged in August 2023 and surprised many as it came into immediate effect after publication of a badly scanned document, but was not foreshadowed by government agencies or politicians.

The move was interpreted as a way to kickstart local manufacturing in line with the nation’s “Made in India” initiative.

Shortly after the scheme was announced, India’s IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar explained it in the context of the government’s objective to reduce import dependence and increase domestic manufacturing within this category of products. He added that the move was also designed to regulate imports to ensure trusted and verifiable systems.

It didn’t take long for protests to emerge. Samsung and Apple halted shipments to India and with a week, the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) pushed back the start date for the licensing requirement to November 1st.

Industry groups wanted more and protested, citing India’s World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments as one reason the regime should not be adopted.

Last Friday, India made another move when the DGFT published a circular [PDF that states “Only the import of Laptops, Tablets, All-in-one Personal Computers, Ultra small form factor Computers and Servers falling under HSN 8471 is ‘Restricted’ and import should be allowed against a valid Import authorisation only for above five item categories.”

“The given Import Restriction does not apply to any other goods such as Desktop Computers, etc. under tariff head 8471.”

The circular doesn’t explain why desktops are treated differently to laptops. Which is odd, as both classes of PC are packed full of components from diverse sources.

Nor are desktops less likely than laptops to present the kind of danger to users that India used to justify its scheme.

Perhaps India has decided it needs to court makers of desktop PCs: in November 2023, the government revealed Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and 22 others had signed up for a $42 billion scheme to make kit in India. The five abovementioned companies all make plenty of desktops and may have been miffed at being simultaneously courted and curtailed. ®

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