Customs duties

Normal rates and notification requirements

Where are normal customs duty rates for your jurisdiction listed? Is there an exemption for low-value shipments, if so, at what level? Is there a binding tariff information system or similar in place? Are there prior notification requirements for imports?

Imports must comply with the customs formalities set out in the Union Customs Code (UCC) (Council Regulation 952/2013), and the relevant implementing regulations (ie, the UCC Delegated Act (Commission Delegated Regulation 2015/2446) and the UCC Implementing Act (Commission Implementing Regulation 2015/2447)). These acts are supported by the UCC Transitional Delegated Act (Commission Delegated Regulation 2016/341) and the UCC Work Programme (Commission Implementing Decision No. 2016/578).

Certain goods, such as military items, endangered species, waste, biocides and other chemicals are subject to special licensing, registration, classification, labelling and packaging requirements before they can be placed into free circulation.

The EU customs duties payable upon importation are set out in the Combined Nomenclature. A link to the current version is available on the website of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Tax and Customs (DG TAXUD) at https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/calculation-customs-duties/what-is-common-customs-tariff/combined-nomenclature_en.

Goods whose value does not exceed the amount of €150 are exempted from the payment of customs duties when they are provided directly to the buyer (https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/individuals/buying-goods-services-online-personal-use/buying-goods/buying-goods-online-coming-from-a-noneu-union-country_en).

National customs authorities issue binding tariff informations (BTIs) and binding origin informations (BOIs) upon a written request by an economic operator. The BTIs and BOIs are valid for imports of the applicant (only) throughout the EU, but other operators often base their own requests on existing rulings. A list of BTIs currently in place can be accessed via the website of the Commission’s DG TAXUD at https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/calculation-customs-duties/what-is-common-customs-tariff/binding-tariff-information-bti_en.

Special rates and preferential treatment

Where are special tariff rates, such as under free trade agreements or preferential tariffs, and countries that are given preference listed?

The EU acts implementing international agreements into EU law specify the special tariff rates applicable under those agreements. A list of the EU’s current international agreements with links to the respective implementing laws can be found at https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/.

Further rules can be found in the UCC (Council Regulation 952/2013), the UCC Delegated Act (Commission Delegated Regulation 2015/2446) and the UCC Implementing Act (Commission Implementing Regulation 2015/2447), respectively.

Regulation (EU) No. 978/2012 sets out the EU’s scheme of generalised tariff preferences (GSP) (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:02012R0978-20180307). It establishes:

  • a general preference arrangement for developing countries;
  • a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance (GSP+); and
  • a special arrangement for the least-developed countries (Everything But Arms (EBA)).

Under the GSP, import duties for non-sensitive goods are reduced to zero and for sensitive goods by 3.5 per cent (and 20 per cent for sections S-11a and S-11b of Annex V). Countries that apply for, and to which the EU grants, GSP+ status benefit from additional duty suspensions. For least-developed countries that comply with the EBA conditions, all tariff duties except for Combined Nomenclature Chapter 93 (arms) are suspended.

How can GSP treatment for a product be obtained or removed?

Overall, the Commission can add and remove countries from the list of GSP beneficiaries according to the international status and classification of a country. The GSP benefits for a developing country (except for least-developed countries) can be removed if a country has been classified by the World Bank as a high-income or an upper-middle-income country during three consecutive years or if that country benefits from a preferential market access arrangement that provides the same tariff preferences as the GSP or better. The removal takes effect one (in the first instance) and two (in the second instance) years, respectively, after the entry into force of the decision or preferential agreement.

In addition to the entire withdrawal of GSP benefits, the GSP also provides for the suspension of the duty reductions for imports of specific products if they exceed a certain value threshold over three consecutive years.

The EU can also withdraw the GSP preferences temporarily in respect of all or of certain products originating in a beneficiary country, for any of the following reasons:

  • serious and systematic violation of human and labour rights and environment and governance principles;
  • export of goods made by prison labour;
  • serious shortcomings in customs controls on the export or transit of drugs (illicit substances or precursors), or failure to comply with international conventions on anti-terrorism and money laundering;
  • serious and systematic unfair trading practices, including those affecting the supply of raw materials, which have an adverse effect on the EU industry and which have not been addressed by the beneficiary country;
  • serious and systematic infringement of the objectives adopted by Regional Fishery Organisations or any international arrangements to which the EU is a party concerning the conservation and management of fishery resources; and
  • in cases of fraud, irregularities or systematic failure to comply with or to ensure compliance with the rules concerning the origin of the products and with the procedures related thereto, or failure to provide administrative cooperation as required for the implementation and policing of the GSP.

Is there a duty suspension regime in place? How can duty suspension be obtained?

Economic operators can request a suspension of tariffs on all or a certain quota of imports of semi-finished products or raw materials if these products are not available or not available in sufficient quantities in the EU.

A suspension request must be filed with the European Commission via the member state where the economic operator is located, on the form attached as Annex I of Commission Communication 2011/C 363 (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2011:363:0006:0017:EN:PDF).

Member states submit the requests they receive twice a year, in March and September, to the Economic Tariff Questions Group (ETQG). The ETQG consists of representatives of the Commission, the member states and Turkey, and examines the requests in three meetings (four if required). EU producers of a product for which duty suspension is requested can object to the request until the second meeting. Appeals against existing duty suspensions must be filed before the first ETQG meeting of a given DS cycle.

Approved duty suspensions enter into force nine months after the submission of the request (ie, for duty suspension requests submitted in March, in January of the following year, and for duty suspension requests submitted in September, in July of the following year). Duty suspensions are usually in place for five years and can be renewed.

Challenge

Where can customs decisions be challenged in your jurisdiction? What are the procedures?

Customs decisions are taken by the national customs authorities of the EU member states. Accordingly they can be challenged at national level before the administrative or judicial courts of the member states. National courts can apply to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling (under article 267 TFEU) if the issue before them concerns a matter of interpretation of EU law.

Economic operators can also challenge certain decisions by the Commission, such as decisions on refund and remission requests, directly before the General Court under article 263 TFEU.