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BREXIT: Customs…understanding your obligations

18 December

Regardless of whether there is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in place at the end of the transition period or not, customs obligations are an unavoidable eventuality for UK and EU trade. An FTA is only likely to have an impact on the tariffs imposed on the different types of goods being imported into the UK and vice versa.

In preparing for these procedures and processes, all UK businesses should have applied for and acquire an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number. This is an number specific to your business that will enable Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to identify who you are as a business.  From 1 January 2020, businesses will need an EORI number starting with “GB”. If you do not currently hold a “GB” EORI number, then it is important that you apply for a new one. It is currently estimated that it can take a week to obtain an EORI.

If you are based in Northern Ireland, then you as a business will need an EORI number starting with “XI” in order to (1) move goods between Northern Ireland and non-EU countries, (2) make a declaration in Northern Ireland, and/or (3) get a customs decision in Northern Ireland. Guidance currently states that if you already have an EORI number from an EU country, you do not need an EORI number starting with XI. However, given the unique and unpredictable position of Northern Ireland in the imminent arrangements, you may still need an EORI number starting with GB to use some UK customs systems. In order to acquire an EORI starting with “XI” you (confusingly) need an EORI starting with “GB”.

It is important when discussing customs and international goods movements to remember at all times that goods movement from one country to another is an export out of one country, and an import into the receiving country. This means that the applicable export procedure in the first country must be adhered to, followed by the applicable import procedure that applies in the receiving country. These will not necessarily be the same and will often depend on the relevant countries in question.

If you are a company based in the UK and you want to export to the EU from 1 January 2021, you will be required (among other things) in most circumstances to complete an export declaration, otherwise referred to as a Single Administrative Document (aptly abbreviated to “SAD”) or Form C88, which be completed either as a hardcopy document or the equivalent can be completed electronically. If you wish to complete this and other documents electronically, you should be able to do so using the National Export System (NES) which is a system you will need to register for. Completion of any form of declaration will probably need a business or its representative to enter its EORI number. Export declarations should be made before the goods arrive at the port of export.

Equally, when the goods arrive at the border with the EU (the EU being one whole customs territory), be that by road, air or boat, then the EU’s import procedures will need to be adhered to in order to get the goods into the EU. With this in mind, it is important that both the exporter and the carrier easily have to hand the EU-based importer’s contact details to ensure that these procedures are completed appropriately. Duty and VAT will usually be incurred by the importer (be that an importer bringing goods into the EU, or UK) who completes the relevant import declarations and procedures.

That being said, there are procedures in place that delay customs duties and VAT until the goods reach their destination. These are called methods of “transit”, the primary method being carried out under the Common Transit Convention (CTC). Without going into explicit detail, such a procedure would allow goods to move from Lancaster in the UK to Rome in Italy by road without having to pay duty and VAT at Calais in France. Instead the duty would either be paid on entry into Italy or at the point of delivery in Rome, however this may depend on a number of additional possible features. Before looking to use any form of transit, we would recommend seeking advice in respect of the specific circumstances.

Additional licences and/or requirements may be needed for different types of goods, and it may be that different or additional declarations or procedures become relevant. The above are just some concepts and areas for businesses monitor.

If you would like to speak to someone about the above, please contact our Regulatory Department on 01254 828300 or





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