Non-Tariff Trade Barriers: Non-hazardous liquid cleaning products as a case study

Many exporters to the United States are well-educated on the various tariff codes and the related compliance requirements for their specific product or country of origin.  However, “non-tariff barriers” can sometimes cause headaches.  Although the foreign exporter rarely has the ultimate responsibility for complying with US regulations, exporters must, however, overcome the non-tariff barriers in order to market their product in the United States.  Experienced importers, knowing that they are ultimately responsible for compliance, are attuned to the type and scope of approvals that are required for the products that they import.  It may therefore be worthwhile for exporters to understand their products from the view of the importer in order to recognize the non-tariff barriers that affect their ability to market their product.

Depending on the item, there are various government agency approvals required, some of which may not be intuitive.  For example, electronics require (among others) approval from the Federal Communications Commission due to their emission of regulated wave frequencies; a CD player requires approval from the agency that regulates lasers, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”); and chemicals require approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).

As an example, below we take a look at what agencies come into play when an importer seeks to import non-hazardous liquid cleaning products into the USA.  We note that this information is highly generalized; the relevant agencies and the paperwork necessary for entry will depend on the specific nature of the product.

  • EPA
    • The EPA requires registration of all products that claim to “prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate any pest,” including harmful microorganisms.  The EPA also requires specific labeling for these products.   
    • Note that disinfectants, sterilizers and other chemical germicides (ordinarily regulated by the EPA) which are used on medical devices are themselves considered to be medical devices.  These products, therefore, are also subject to FDA regulation.
    • Food contact surface sanitizers must be registered with the EPA and should be formulated in accordance with its standards.
  • FDA
    • Antimicrobial hand soaps and sanitizers are classified as “drugs” and hence are regulated by the FDA.
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”)
  • Federal Trade Commission

This information is obviously limited in scope as it relates to one type of product, but we hope it provides some insight into the web of regulatory agencies of which exporters should be aware when considering marketing their product in the United States.  Of course, if you are interested in discussing your specific product or needs, we would be happy to assist.  Please e-mail us at or, with a copy to

Sectors: Metals, Minerals & Materials
Export Action Plan