Traders who import or export goods into or out of the EU and following Brexit, the UK are required to provide a classification code for the customs clearance of each of their goods being shipped. When asked to supply a classification code by a clearance agent a number of questions arise, namely;
- What are customs classification codes?
- Why do traders need to be aware of them?
- How do you classify goods for customs declarations?
- What to do if there is uncertainty regarding the correct classification?
So what are customs classification codes?
Customs classification codes are often referred to as HS / HTS Codes, commodity codes or tariff codes. They consist of a 10 digit code for imports or an 8 digit code for exports. There is a worldwide Harmonised System which around 180 countries apply, which aims to harmonise the first 6 digits of the code across these countries. However, the interpretation of the legislation can differ between countries, so if a US supplier has a HS code on the commercial invoice it may be dangerous to assume that this code will also apply when importing into the EU.
Why do traders need to be aware of them?
Traders need to be aware of the correct classification of their products for a number of reasons;
- Determines Rates of duty and other taxes at import – the classification of an imported good drives the customs duty rate for the imported goods. The duty rates can vary between 0% up to 25% for certain food items.
The classification of the good also determines if anti-dumping duty or agricultural levies will apply.
- Origin requirements/benefits for preferential trade – this is particularly important when considering the post BREXIT era. Many traders believe that if a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is in place then customs duties and declarations will no longer apply. However, the reduction of customs duties in a FTA are conditional, with the condition rules differing between classification headings. Therefore, it is required that the imported goods are correctly classified and a customs declaration is lodged even when a FTA exists.
- Whether goods are subject to restrictions at import or export
- Avoid delays or seizures
- To avoid penalties and post-entry audit issues
The Importer is responsible for correctly classifying their goods on import and export.
Many traders rely on their clearance agent or HTS codes on the supplier invoice to classify their products. However, as an international trader you should be aware of the significance of the data on the customs clearance declaration or the Single Administrative Document (SAD). In the event of a post clearance check some of the more obvious information that a customs official may look out for is consistency of the information provided in the SAD. Take for instance a manufacturing company which imports plastic pipes as part of its operations. In box 31 of the SAD the product description is “Pvc plastic piping 50mm” then the Revenue officer would expect to see a tariff heading 3917 …., In box 33 of the SAD indicting that the product is “tubes, pipes and hoses of plastic”. However, if it is found that the tariff code provided is 4006 …., which covers “tubes … of rubber” this would be a red flag and could result in a post clearance customs audit.
Taking the above example, tariff heading 4006 which the importer has been using, attracts a 0% duty rate upon import into the EU. The correct tariff heading 3917 attracts 6.5%, so if Revenue go back 3 years (further in cases of suspected fraud) then 6.5% of the total shipments of plastic piping could mount up to a significant unbudgeted expense.
Regardless of how the error occurred, it is the importer who will be assessed for this duty which is generally not recoverable, so is a dead cost to the business. Furthermore, if the importer had been aware that the import of this product would have a duty impact prior to commencing importation, they may have been about to avail of customs economic (or special) procedures to suspend or eliminate the duty on import.
How do you classify goods for customs declarations?
The legal document which is used for classification in the EU is called the Combined Nomenclature (CN);
It is made up of:
-Approximately 5,000 headings and subheadings
Classification is determined according to the terms of the headings and is subject to the Section and Chapter notes which are legally binding.
When classifying the product it is important to understand; the make-up of the product, its function, how it is presented at import, if it is an unassembled or unfinished product and the essential character of the product.
There are also guides to assist with the classification process such as the WCO Explanatory Notes and databases such as the eBTI database and TARIC in the EU and CROSS rulings in the US.
What to do if there is uncertainty regarding the correct classification?
There may be times when the classification of a good could fall between two or more headings. In other cases the risk of getting the classification incorrect could be too great in terms of extra customs duty or if one heading applied anti-dumping duty whilst another did not. Additionally, diverging codes could lead to falling foul of import/export restrictions if the classification of a product was deemed incorrect post clearance.
As the penalties for non-compliance can be severe in both financial and reputational terms, certainty is required by traders. The solution in these instances is to obtain a decision from revenue which is known as a Binding Tariff Information (BTI).
A BTI is legally binding on the holder and on all customs administrations within the European Union. Therefore, it provides legal certainty for its validity period of 3 years. The processing time for a BTI can be up to 120 days, so it is important to plan ahead before shipping materials.
Following the introduction of the Union Customs Code, the right to be heard has been removed for BTI applications. Therefore, if a trader submits a complete application to Revenue, Revenue can issue the BTI to an alternative heading without engaging in a further consultation process with the applicant. Whilst the option to appeal the decision remains, whilst the appeal is ongoing the BTI issued will be legally binding on the applicant. We would therefore advise that professional advice is sought prior to submitting an application, to allow the best chance of a satisfactory outcome.
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BDO Ireland | May 10, 2017 | 0 comments