COVID-19: Customs flexibility in the European Union + UK

This blog summarizes what customs managers and global trade professional now need to know and be able to talk about as regards the certain flexibility in the application of customs provisions relating to the customs decision-making process, customs procedures and customs formalities. The EU Commission's DG TAXUD has agreed on Guidance. for the EU 27. We also look at the UK's COVID-19 Customs easements.

Why do Customs Managers and Global Trade Professionals need to know this? To do their job, customs managers and global trade professionals need to always stay up-to-date with a dynamic legal landscape. They are required to have excellent knowledge of customs formalities, trade agreements and export control legislation. They must be able to interpret law changes and explain them in a clear and simple manner to internal and external stakeholders.

As the situation can evolve rapidly and imply further guidance on additional issues, guidance may evolve and you should only refer to the official documents as indicated by the Source below. This blog is merely an As-Is snapshot at a current time.

EU Guidance on Customs issues related to the COVID-19 emergency

The EU Commission has issued guidance that aims to provide practical solutions given by the current legal framework, in order to ensure a uniform application of the UCC even in this time of crisis.

What are the easement measures the EU Commission suggests?

Waive the requirement of empowerment in customs representation Customs authorities can waive the requirement to prove that the person represented (i.e. the consignee) has provided the empowerment. This can apply from postal operators, express carriers or customs agents for the customs clearance activities they are carrying out on behalf of the consignee.

Customs Decisions

  1. New applications for customs decisions – only essential application please for the functioning of the supply chain and free flow of essential goods needed in the Member States.

  2. Extension of the time-limit to make decisions on applications already submitted, where the applicant needs additional time to ensure fulfilment with the relevant conditions and criteria.

Customs Debts and Guarantees Possibility to take into account economic operators’ serious difficulties in respect of the debtor.

  • Article 45(2) and (3) UCC allows customs to suspend the implementation of a customs decision, even without a guarantee, if it is established on the basis of a documented assessment that such a guarantee would be likely to cause the debtor economic and social difficulties. Here are some of the decisions of the customs that can be taken:

  • Article 112(1) and (3) UCC provides that customs authorities may refrain from requiring a guarantee or charging credit interest if it is established on the basis of a documented assessment that this would create serious economic or social difficulties;

  • Article 114(3) UCC allows customs to refrain from charging interest on arrears if it is established on the basis of a documented assessment that it would create serious economic or social difficulties;

  • Article 89(3) UCC DA provides that customs shall suspend under some conditions the time limit for payment of a customs debt in relation to which there is an application for remission.

  • Article 91(2)(b) UCC DA provides for the suspension of the time limit for payment of a customs debt incurred through non-compliance, even without a guarantee, if it is established that providing such a guarantee would be likely to cause the debtor economic and social difficulties.

  • Exceeding the guarantee limits is not legally possible outside the scope of the current legal provisions on reduction of the guarantee amount or on the guarantee waiver (paragraphs (2) and (3) of Article 95 of the Code). Nevertheless, the Commission has taken actions to ensure that the temporary admission of items for disaster victims of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis becomes free of customs duties and VAT, which would de facto waive the requirement of the guarantee for these specific goods.

Entry of goods

Entry Summary Declaration by a transport document

Medical, surgical and laboratory equipment for emergency treatments is not exempted from the obligation to lodge an entry summary declaration (ENS), even in emergency cases. However, commercial, port or transport documents can be used for this purpose, under the 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. ​​​ Presentation of goods to customs by oral presentation Non-Union goods entering the customs territory of the EU have to be presented to customs. Whilst in principle there is no possibility to waive this obligation for medical, surgical and laboratory equipment, such presentation can be considered as being fulfilled by the oral declaration of such goods for temporary admission (see point 7(a) below). Import of human organs and bone marrow destined for transplant in the EU In order to ensure their timely delivery and use, the customs formalities for import of organs and other human or animal tissue during the current emergency times should be as minimal as possible, so as not to delay their release into free circulation. Article 138(h) UCC DA will allow that organs and other human or animal tissue or human blood, where not declared using other means, are deemed to be declared for release for free circulation by any of the acts laid down in the amended Article 141(1) UCC DA (declaration by any other act).

Presentation of goods to customs Economic operators are encouraged to use the Union or Common transit procedure, TIR or pre-lodged customs declarations to the widest possible extent in order to speed up border crossing and optimize customs controls at the EU external borders. T2L Economic operators are encouraged to consider moving goods in such a way that they will benefit from the presumption of the Union status in accordance with Article 119(2) UCC-DA. Customs authorities may, at national level, find ways to accept on a temporary basis T2L copies instead of originals, as long as circumstances prevail that make the timely presentation of originals impossible. However post-release control or other measures should apply.

Origin of goods Submission of proof of preferential origin during the COVID-19 crisis The Commission services have been informed about the impossibility of some EU Member States and EU preferential trade partners to provide origin certificates in due form (i.e. signed, stamped and in the right paper format), as in a number of countries contacts between customs and economic operators have been suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. It may be possible in the future that copies of certificates, as well as optimally using approved exporter status as an alternative to official certificates can be solutions. Customs Procedures: Invoke a force majeure?

Goods in temporary storage for more than 90 days: If the goods fail to be placed under a customs procedure or re-exported due to circumstances related to the spread of COVID-19 disease within the right timeframe, the economic operator may invoke force majeure.

Possibility to use simplified declarations without prior authorisation under the condition that the simplified declaration constitutes a non-regular or occasional use.  The absence of a definition of the term ‘regular use’ allows for a certain flexibility.

Time-limit for submitting the supplementary declaration

If an economic operator cannot meet the deadline for submitting the supplementary declaration due to reasons linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, he or she should inform the supervising customs office as soon as possible. The request for extending the deadline is to be submitted to the customs authorities and justified by duly substantiated unforeseeable circumstances.

Presentation of goods at approved places 

The presentation of goods to customs could be performed in a ‘place approved by the customs authorities’ referred to in Article 139(1) UCC. This facilitation allows traders to present the goods, e.g. critical goods, directly at their premises.

Longer period to amend declarations

In accordance with Article 173(3) UCC, after release of the goods the declarant may request the amendment of the customs declaration within three years of the date of its acceptance, in order to comply with the obligations relating to the placing of the goods under the customs procedure concerned. For declarations lodged during the COVID-19 crisis, this time-limit should be sufficient for economic operators to request the amendment.

Transit Time-limits to present goods at the customs office of destination (Art. 297 and 306(3) IA) Economic operators can expect that the customs office of departure will take into consideration possible longer transport times due to anti-corona measure when setting the time-limit within which the goods shall be presented at the customs office of destination. When the goods are presented to the customs office of destination after expiry of the time-limit, the customs authority may presume that the delay was not attributable to the carrier. Time-limits for the control results The time-limit to send the control results may be extended to six days in accordance to Article 309(1) UCC-IA. TIR Carriers could ask the customs authorities to allow the use of the TIR procedure on paper only, if this is necessary under the current circumstances in the context of the rules on business continuity. CIM consignment note as customs transit declaration for rail transport (Article 24, 30,33 et seq. TDA) Some customs administrations (NL, AT, CH (List to be completed by 31-3-2020)) have temporarily agreed to accept scanned copies of the paper document(s) in the context of this procedure, subject to suitable verifications ex post and subject to informing the actors involved.

Special procedures Use of the temporary admission procedure The present exceptional situation should be considered as a ‘disaster’ in the terms of Article 221 UCC DA. Therefore, all goods brought to the customs territory of the Union to counter the effects of this ‘disaster’, i.e. COVID-19, such as ambulances or some support medical equipment, should be eligible to be declared for temporary admission with total relief from import duty. Article 139 UCC DA may allow these goods to be declared by any other act, e.g. by the sole act of crossing the border, according to Article 141(1)(d) UCC DA. Another possibility would be to lodge an oral declaration according to Article 136(1) UCC DA. The provision of the form established in Annex 71-01 is mandatory in this case (see Article 165 UCC DA), but such provision could be postponed up to 120 days after the release of the goods if customs authorities allow it (see Articles 166(2) UCC and 147(2) UCC-DA). The same approach can apply for the temporary admission of medical, surgical and laboratory equipment referred to in Article 222 DA by any other act, in accordance with Article 139 DA or by an oral declaration based on Article 136(1)(d) DA. Possibility to extend the limit for re-exporting the goods under temporary admission As many economic operators have been obliged to close their premises and stop working, it may be impossible for them to re-export the goods declared for temporary admission by means of ATA carnets within the established time-limit. In such cases, Article 251(3) UCC allows the holder of the procedure to ask customs authorities to prolong the time limit for re-export of goods declared for temporary admission under exceptional circumstances (such as COVID-19). This applies regardless of the type of declaration used for the placing of goods under the temporary admission procedure. In case the ATA Carnet was used for this purpose, there is no need to issue a new ATA carnet, as Article 14 of the Istanbul Convention is a ‘may’ provision. Use of Inward processing For the customs declaration of medicines the IP can be used where usual forms of handling are allowed (see Article 256(3)(b) UCC and Annex 71-03 UCC-DA). The simplification established in Article 324(1)(e) UCC-IA may be used in most of the cases as most of the medical products are free of import duty (see, inter alia, chapter 30 of the Common Customs Tariff). This means that the delivery of such products can be subject to Article 324(1)(e) UCC-IA, i.e. such delivery is regarded to be a re-export.

Ship supplies Ship supplies are goods and equipment for use on board the ship by the crew, and not for export. According to Article 269(2)(c) UCC, the export procedure does not apply to ship supplies. Ships leaving EU ports are considered to be leaving the EU (even if this is a voyage between two EU ports - maritime law), and therefore medical supplies on board are subject to export formalities, even if they are not formally placed under the export procedure. Ships must have on-board pharmacies (Council Directive 92/29/EEC of 31 March 1992 on the minimum safety and health requirements for improved medical treatment on board vessels), and therefore they should be allowed to leave EU ports carrying protective gear and medication for the on-board pharmacies catering for their crews. This specific type of “ship supplies” is, therefore, exempted from the export restrictions on personal protective equipment implemented by Regulation (EU) 2020/402 of 14 March 2020. Possibility to delay the invalidation of the customs declaration for export or the re-export declaration Economic operators have requested the prolongation of the period for the exit of goods from the customs territory without the export or re-export declaration being invalidated by the customs office of export. Indeed, if the customs office of export has not received any information or evidence that the goods have left the customs territory of the EU within 150 days from the date of the release of the goods for the export, re-export or outward processing procedure, the customs office may invalidate the declaration concerned, in accordance with Article 248 UCC DA.

UK Temporary easement measures

The UK has agreed on temporary changes to customs policy and authorisations to assist businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Please note that as long as the transition period applies, the guidance above also applies to the UK.

Exports less than €3000 in value

Consignments of less than €3000 in value that are not subject to prohibitions or restrictions can be declared for export in the UK even if the exporter is established in another EU member state. They must complete a customs declaration for these goods.

If the export is to be conducted under simplified procedures, they must contact your supervising office.

Delays during transit of your goods

If you are transporting goods, the expected journey time entered on a transit declaration can reflect anticipated delays. The New Computerised Transit System will accept journey times of up to 14 days.

Completing supplementary declarations

If businesses are unable to accurately calculate your supplementary declaration by your due date as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19), they may submit an estimated figure. If their declaration includes an amount of Excise duty, you may submit a supplementary declaration as normal.

How to submit an estimated figure

To submit an estimated figure, businesses must email and provide the following:

  • company name

  • EORI number

  • deferment account number

  • estimated customs duty amount owed

  • estimated VAT owed

  • the number of supplementary declarations not submitted.

Changes to customs authorisations If you’re no longer able to comply with a condition of your authorisation because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Customs Managers can contact their local customs office to temporarily vary the conditions of the authorisation. Applications should be e looked at on a case by case basis and may be declined if there are concerns about the impact on customs controls. Usually, you can e-mail your local customs office with the subject ‘COVID-19 customs easement request’.

Some changes that can be requested are:

  • changes to site opening hours

  • the need for staff to be on-site in order to carry out a particular function if that function can be completed remotely

  • the specific areas within an approved location in which customs controls must be conducted

  • reducing dwell times to allow quicker permission to progress

  • time limits for bills of discharge and throughput periods for special procedures

  • how to process goods held in temporary storage over 90 days

Applying for customs authorisations and guarantees Some postal customs authorisation application can by email (original signature must follow later) Priority and fast-track for supplies of food, medical and pharmaceuticals For businesses authorised to provide Customs Comprehensive Guarantees, they will accept an electronic copy of the financial guarantee form (CCG2), transit guarantee form (C1146) and Joint Contractual Liability Form.

Renewing an existing authorisation Companies that are unable to renew their customs authorisation that is due to expire, will have it automatically extend your authorisation to ensure they have continuity.

Producing hand sanitiser and gel for coronavirus (COVID-19)

Temporary changes to the use and supply of denatured alcohol and duty-free spirits, to help businesses who produce hand sanitiser and gel. Information has been updated about requirements that must be followed to make sure sanitiser products are safe to use.


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