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EU - Update: COVID-19, International Trade and Customs - Brussels

15 April 2020
The article provides a brief overview of measures in international trade and customs that should help companies in dealing with the present exceptional COVID-19 situation 

The European Commission ("Commission") issued various guidelines and decisions that provide options and solutions for dealing with the current exceptional circumstances. The ultimate objective of these actions is to ensure a uniform approach in Member States' response to the COVID-19 emergency.  Below we provide you with a short summary of some of the practical solutions available in customs and trade as published by the Commission on 30 March 2020. Please note that the guidelines are continuously updated and the latest update is from 8 April 2020.

Guidance on customs issues related to the COVID-19 emergency:

  • For low value consignments, postal operators, express carriers and customs agents are not required to provide evidence of their empowerment for the customs clearance activities they are carrying out on behalf of the consignee.
  • Customs authorities are not legally entitled to refuse applications for customs decisions that meet the legal requirements. However, in the present situation, economic operators are strongly encouraged to only apply for essential customs decisions, so that customs authorities can focus on the most urgent demands. Customs authorities can also be requested to extend the time-limit to take a decision where additional time is needed by the applicant, due to the actual situation, to comply with the relevant conditions and criteria.  
  • Payment facilities can be granted to take into account economic operators’ serious difficulties. If it is established on the basis of a documented assessment that this would create serious economic or social difficulties, customs authorities can:

a. suspend the implementation of a customs decision, even without a guarantee;
b. refrain from requiring a guarantee or from charging credit interest;
c. refrain from charging interest on arrears;
d. suspend under some conditions the time limit for payment of a customs debt in relation to which there is an application for remission; and
e. suspend the time limit for payment of a customs debt incurred through non-compliance.

  • Extension, on a case-by-case base, of time-limits applicable to facilities such as temporary storage and to the various formalities within the context of transit procedure. Extensions can also be granted for submitting supplementary declarations, for amending customs declarations and for re-exporting goods under temporary admission.
  • Medical, surgical and laboratory equipment is not exempted from the obligation to lodge an entry summary declaration ("ENS"), even in emergency cases. However, the UCC provides for the possibility to use commercial, port or transport documents for this purpose, on condition that these other documents contain the necessary particulars of the ENS and are available before a specific time-limit prior to the arrival of the goods in the EU.
  • Facilitate the entry of goods of medical, surgical and laboratory equipment for emergency treatments and enact more flexible rules with regard to the entry summary declaration and the presentation of goods to customs. Ambulances or some support medical equipment, should be eligible to be declared for temporary admission with total relief from import duty.
  • Submission of proof of preferential origin: provide the possibility of submitting copies of certificates, as well as optimally using approved exporter status as an alternative to official certificates.

On 14 March 2020, the Commission adopted Regulation (EU) 2020/402, which prohibits the export of certain medical and personal protective equipment to countries outside the European Union without an export authorisation (though note the exceptions in the guidance). 

On 3 April 2020, the Commission decided to exempt from import duties and grant a VAT exemption on importation of goods needed to combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak during 2020. Only bodies governed by public law or other authorised organisations and disaster relief agencies can benefit from this measure and only to the extent the goods are distributed or made available free of charge. 

Belgium

Belgian customs authorities will not charge delayed payment interests on VAT and excise duties on alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. However, customs duties need to be paid within the prescribed time limits. The importation of goods needed to combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak are exempted from import duties and VAT as per the Commission's decision of 3 April 2020.

Holders of an authorisation for inward processing, customs warehouse, temporary storage or load and unloading facilities can request customs authorities to expand their actual authorisation with additional storage space. This is on the condition that the additional storage space is situated in Belgium. This option is only available for the storage of goods that have not been placed yet under a definitive customs procedure. 

Belgium temporarily accepts the digital versions of the proofs of origin of imported goods. Exporters can also apply for approved exporter status that can temporarily be granted without the usual audit.

For more information, please see here a Dutch or French version of the various measures: 

UK

The UK enacted various measures to help the process of customs authorisation. Some of these are:

  • holders of authorisations can request permission from the supervising office in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs ("HMRC") or Border Force to temporarily vary the conditions of their authorisation (e.g. site opening hours, the presence of staff etc.);
  • application for an authorisation can now be made by email and will need to be followed by postal application form with an original signature once the coronavirus (COVID-19) controls are lifted;
  • automatic extension of the authorisation to ensure companies have continuity in case HMRC is unable to renew the customs authorisation.

For more information, please see here

HMRC also issued guidelines on moving goods and clearing customs during the coronavirus outbreak. 

On 31 March 2020, HMRC provided guidance on claiming relief on import duty and VAT on protective equipment, relevant medical devices, or equipment brought into the United Kingdom from non-EU countries during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Further Reading

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