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Exporting agri-foods to the UK and rules of origin - what you need to know

Customs expert Arne Mielken, of Customs Manager Ltd, explains how European agri-food producers can ensure tariff-free trade with the UK.

EU countries ship large volumes of agri-food products to Great Britain, with exports totalling tens of billions of euros every year.

Thankfully the EU-UK free trade deal avoided the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit, but that doesn’t mean shipping goods to Britain is now plain sailing – far from it.

Many producers still think they can continue to enjoy tariff-free trade with the UK as before, but the reality is more complicated.

Exporters often struggle to understand complex rules of origin and prove where their goods were produced. If you can’t prove their origin, you can’t gain tariff and quota-free access to British and EU markets.

What are rules of origin?

The rules of origin seek to determine the economic nationality of a product. It can be difficult to prove where your goods come from though, especially if they have undergone multiple production processes using ingredients from different countries around the world.

It’s a lot simpler to establish a product’s origin when dealing with so-called “wholly obtained” agricultural goods. It’s usually just a case of proving where the animal was born, or where the plant started to grow.

But if your goods have been assembled from raw ingredients and transformed into new value-added products, the country of origin is where the last substantial, economically significant processing took place.

It’s important to understand that where a product was shipped from, and the place it was produced or transformed, are not necessarily the same.

But that’s not all - there are also product-specific rules to comply with and different requirements for non-preferential and preferential origin goods. So make sure you understand what’s required when filling in your customs declarations. (Read more about customs declarations:

Producers are often unaware that they need to comply with the rules of the specific trade agreement as well as the general rules of origin, and these can vary from country to country.

Also, ensure that the statement of origin on the commercial invoice matches the text in the trade agreement. You should copy and paste the official text directly from the legislation and complete the declaration correctly.

Resist the temptation to remove or add anything that isn’t in the official text of the specific trade agreement. Mistakes with paperwork can lead to long and costly border delays.

By having a sound understanding of the rules of origin, European agri-food exporters can continue to enjoy tariff-free trade with the UK.

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About the author

Arne Mielken is a leading global trade expert in the UK and the EU, and founder of the customs and training consultancy Customs Manager Ltd. Arne supports businesses to reach their international customers faster, by cutting costs and red tape. He assists and trains companies to de-risk their supply chain and stay compliant, enabling them to grow globally. Customs Manager Ltd also offers UK import and export customs clearance services.

For more information visit

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