Import cartels involve agreements concluded among competing firms in one or several countries. Such cartels may collectively limit the aggregate amount of specified imported goods, determine the sources of supply for such imports and/or fix the prices and terms of purchase the cartel members will pay for such imports. Such activities may be: a defensive measure to achieve lower purchase prices for imported products because their importers encounter aggressive export policies pursued by suppliers through 'natural' monopolies, or export cartels or centralized State selling agencies; an aggressive measure aimed at preventing or limiting imports in order to protect members of the cartel from import competition, or to ensure that imports take place before rather than after the processing of the goods in question, or to minimize the buying prices paid by cartel members; part of an exclusive arrangement between exporters and importers of a particular product with the purpose of excluding other firms from the business. From the point of view of the developing countries, an aggressive import cartel would appear to be a most harmful activity since it could restrict the volume of exports from those countries and the range of the prices paid to them for the imports permitted.
The known cases of import cartels in the developed market economy countries after World War II appear to be few in number, since in most of these countries they are either prohibited, or only authorized in certain exceptional cases, or are subject to a control of abuses under the relevant restrictive practices laws. At the end of 1970 in Japan there were three authorized import cartels with regard to the import of certain agricultural products from particular developing countries in Asia. In addition, Japan had two import-export cartels for trade in certain textile products with developing and other countries. In the case of the UK, one import cartel was approved with regard to imports of sulphuric acid. In the (then) Federal Republic of Germany there were two authorized import cartels concerned with imports of molybdenum and of tungsten. In the case of the latter two countries, the cartels were authorized as defensive arrangements. In the case of the USA there are no legal import cartels. No information is available as to whether legal import cartels exist in other countries. From time to time illegal import cartels have been found to exist in the developed market economy countries which affected trade with the developing countries. In certain cases, these arrangements have been aggressive in nature. In addition, similar illegal arrangements have been found to exist in relation to trade amongst certain developed market economy countries.