Apple MacBook Pro Image Credit: AFP

Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and HP Inc. are among the biggest names freezing new imports of laptops and tablets to India after the South Asian country abruptly banned inbound shipments without a license.

Regulators on Thursday surprised the world's biggest PC makers when they made licenses mandatory for import of electronics from small tablets to all-in-one PCs without a license. Laptop makers had been bracing for some government measures aimed at reducing reliance on imports and boosting local production, but the sudden licensing imposition caught the industry off-guard, people familiar with the matter said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Tech firms are now engaging with New Delhi on how to most quickly obtain licenses at a period of heightened consumer interest with India's Diwali shopping season and back-to-school period approaching, the people said.

Representatives for India's trade ministry, Apple, Samsung and HP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Companies bringing laptops, tablets and other IT products to India from overseas will get at least one month to apply for import licenses, a senior technology ministry official told reporters in New Delhi Friday. The government is simplifying the process of applying for licenses which can be approved, in as little as a day, the official added.

Officials are also helping companies for the clearance of shipments already in transit to the South Asian nation as the halt threatens to disrupt a multibillion-dollar trade in foreign PCs at a crucial time.

The requirement creates additional headaches for manufacturers already grappling with a global glut of inventory and few triggers to restart sales growth. It could result in delayed India launches or even product shortages in a maket that's still largely reliant on shipments from overseas.

The import restriction, an example of India's sudden policy shifts, adds to longstanding measures designed to discourage bringing in foreign electronics. It's intended in part to realize longer-term ambitions to create a world-class tech manufacturing industry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is currently seeking applications for a 170 billion rupee ($2.1 billion) financial incentive plan to draw makers of laptops, tablets and other hardware to the world's most populous nation as companies look to diversify supply chains beyond China.