European Union Customs Union

Businesses importing goods from third countries into the EU and Holland, in particular, need to declare the goods at the customs. Some imports are subject to VAT and customs taxes. Due to the established Customs Union the whole EU is considered one territory with respect to customs policies. Therefore, in general, the same rates and rules apply for all Member States (MS). Once goods enter “free circulation” (all duties are paid and the import formalities are completed) in a particular MS, for example Holland, they can circulate freely between the other MS without any further duty payments or customs formalities.

European Union flag floats in the air with clouds and blue sky behind

It must be noted, however, that even though the regulations are common for the EU, their application and/or interpretation may be different depending on the MS. Holland has long-standing traditions in trade and offers a business friendly, open environment. As regards customs supervision, the local Customs Authorities put a lot of effort in providing flexible solutions. There are not any reductions in duty taxes or customs control, but the Dutch Authorities usually try to perform their supervision and control in a way that has as little impact as possible on the companies’ activities.

Customs duties in Europe

The duties payable for import of goods from third countries into the EU are determined by the three main criteria described below.

Classification

The Combined Nomenclature (CN) of the EU (a list of goods with assigned codes and customs tariffs) determines the extent of payable duties as it states which goods are taxed using ad valorem duty rates (a certain percentage of their value), other specific duty rates (for example, a set value per unit of volume), or are not subject to customs duties (the so-called zero rate). When an application is submitted, the Customs Authorities issue a resolution on the product classification. A Binding Tariff Information decision ensures the correct classification of goods, because it binds all EU customs administrations and its holder. We can help you determine your goods’ classification and assist you in preparing and justifying your Binding Tariff Information application.

Valuation

When ad valorem duties apply, the EU rules for customs valuation are based on those of the World Trade Organisation and correspondingly require the application of an approach related to transaction values: the payable or paid price of the goods determines their customs value, i.e. the valuation is based on a sell/buy transaction. So basically the business transactions of the trading parties are used to specify the transaction value. The customs administrations may additionally request proof that the parties are independent and on an equal footing to demonstrate the arm’s length quality of the purchase prices. Alternative methods can only be used when transaction values are unavailable or inapplicable.

The businessman puts a stamp on the contract

When a sell/buy transaction is used for customs valuation, particular cost elements can be added, if they have been excluded from the paid price (e.g. insurance and transport to the border of the EU, research and development costs, royalty payments or assists). Under particular circumstances some elements such as inland transport or installation can be excluded, provided that they constitute a part of the purchase price.

Origin

The European Union has concluded agreements for preferential and free trade with many countries. Provided that the strict requirements specified in these agreements are fulfilled, goods originating from the participating countries can enter the Union at a lower duty rate or free of customs charges (i.e. zero rate). Still the EU applies measures for trade defence related to imports, namely safeguard, anti-subsidy (countervailing) and antidumping measures, which usually result in additional duty. Such measures are frequently taken for goods that originate from specified countries. Therefore the customs expenditures must be carefully considered when making any production or sourcing decisions.

In contrast to the United States of America, the European Union lacks a general system for refund of paid customs duties. Therefore, when imported goods are re-exported any duties paid at the time of importation cannot be refunded. For the purpose of avoiding needless payment of duties for goods destined for markets outside the EU one can use different suspension arrangements, including customs transit (with regard to transport), inward processing (for processing) and customs warehousing (for storage). Such arrangements can also be made to postpone the transfer of import VAT and customs duties. The use of these suspension regimes usually requires authorisations that may be granted only to companies established in the EU.

Various customs reliefs are available to importers if they meet specific criteria.

company application form

Also there are simplified customs procedures for export, import and/or transit. These procedures often allow for more flexibility in managing the (logistics) operations, as customs supervision can be performed at the company’s administrative division instead of requiring a physical check. The simplification can also allow exporters to self-issue origin certificates and origin statements for commercial documents, e.g. invoices (authorised exporters). By virtue of these origin statements or certificates reduced duty rates may apply at import in the state of destination.

Excise duty

By definition excise is a type of consumption tax on particular consumer goods specified in the context of the EU. Examples of excisable goods are wine, beer, spirits, mineral oils and tobacco. Payable excise duties may reach substantial amounts and such imports require more complex customs procedures. Therefore it is advisable to seek consultancy before importation.

UCC (Union Customs Code)

At the beginning of May, 2016, the existing Community Customs Code was replaced by the new UCC. The main principles considered above remain unchanged, but the UCC introduces some significant amendments with respect to the provisions for customs value. Also the first-sale principle can no longer be applied in determining customs value.