updated 06:00 pm EST, Tue December 27, 2011
Move is intended to force local production
In a surprise move, the government of Argentina has "temporarily" blocked the sales of certain foreign-made electronics, including the iPhone and the Blackberry lines of smartphones, in an effort to help stabilize the country's ailing economy, Manuals.ws reports. Between them, the two companies' products make up 60 percent of the smartphone market in Argentina. Other handset makers (such as Microsoft, Nokia, Motorola, LG and Samsung) have avoided the ban by opening plants in the country.
The maneuver follows a law that added a 20.48 percent tax (on top of the normal 21 percent sales tax) on imported electronic devices that had no "presence" in Argentina. In March, the government upped the pressure on Apple and RIM by revoking "automatic" import license of some smartphones, which forced Apple and RIM to wait 60 to 180 days for Customs Authority approval for any new devices.
Despite claims that the ban is meant to slow rising inflation and strengthen the Argentinian peso against the US dollar, both Apple and RIM could avoid the penalties by building a manufacturing plant or partnering with an existing company to manufacture phones in the country, meaning the measures effectively amount to blackmail. RIM is said to be actively seeking a partner, but there are no signs that Apple has plans to do the same.
The government says the ban will be lifted once the economy stabilizes, but some of the measures (such as the extra tax) have been in place since 2009. The country's GDP has been slowing due to large government subsidies for agricultural goods despite decreasing demand. In reaction, authorities have imposed large tariffs and other penalties meant to make imported goods more expensive compared to locally-produced items. Similar but smaller-scale moves are common in most other countries, including the United States, but rarely escalate to the point of an outright ban.
While the ban could be good news for competing handset makers in the Argentine market, the move is also likely to create a "black market" for iPhones and some Blackberry models. While Argentinian carriers are barred from selling the devices, there's been no indication that the companies can't offer service for "third party" phones. Apple's Argentinian page for the iPhone is currently still available, and the company has recently introduced a full iTunes Store and iTunes Match in Argentina. [via Manuals.ws]