When importing goods into the UK you need to have a harmonised customs commodity code. This is to calculate customs duties and to know if you require any licences for that particular product. Due to the tariff system being complicated it is often very difficult for the first time importer and even experience ones to pick the correct code to use. Anybody who has looked at the online trade tariff available at the UK government site will see that is a complex document with hundreds of pages, covering every conceivable product.  Most clearing agents can help you find a suitable code for your product, though importers should always remember this can only be given as a recommendation. It is possible that the even an experienced agent is unsure of which is the best tariff code code to use for that product. The importer at this point then needs to apply for a binding tariff information decision directly from HM Customs and Excise. This is a legally binding decision in the UK (and until December 2020 the EU) which is valid on all imports and exports for the next 3 years.

One you have obtained the decision you can then use this to look up the commodity code in the trade tariff. This will tell you:

The government notice number 600 goes in to further details on what you need to have before applying and how to apply.  You can apply directly by following this link which will take you directly to the HM login page. https://secure.hmce.gov.uk/ecom/login/index.html. This service is free from the HM Customs and any website which charges for this service should be avoided as only HM Customs can issue the official decision. The customs duty liability team will require from you a detailed packing list and photographs of the intended product to be imported or exported. Any additional information such as brochures and manuals are also beneficial when submitting a request. In some cases the customs duty liability team may require you to send them a sample of the product so they can properly assess it.

As an importer if you are using a broker to clear you goods remember to pass this information on to them. If you are unsure how to read the trade tariff ask your broker to check it for you. Ensure you ask the broker before the shipment leaves the loading port to allow you time in case you need to obtain any additional documentation. HM Customs always has the right to right to you and withdraw the decision. Importers should be aware that is not possible to retrospectively apply the decision to customs declarations already made. The binding decision is only applicable to the importer named and is not transferrable to another one. In this case a new application would have to be made.

The logistics industry is like a lot of  established industries is very slowly being dragged into the digital world.  AJF introduced its own API over 12 years ago the first small freight forwarder in the UK for its clients, when  no other small forwarder had one and larger shippers were using EDI.  Even today most shipping lines are only now creating customer portals and none of the have any form of API’s available for there clients.

AJF online facilities have continued to grow over the this period.  The role out of our customs clearance api and additions to the clients portal of a dedicated customs brokerage area will allow the submission and management of clearances a lot easier.

Part of this push to increase digitisation is due to us expecting to move from the old HM Customs Chief system to the new HM Customs Customs Declaration System(CDS). The new CDS requires more information from shippers and consignees and by having it submitted to us electronically helps reduce errors and speeds up the submission. Through the API and the port  clients will have the ability to do the following:

There will be four ways to be able to send us the customs clearance information:

  1. By use of our API
  2. Using the bulk upload manifest tool in the client portal
  3. Entering manifest data by hand into the information into the client portal
  4. Sending us a spreadsheet in our required format by email of the manifest data

Options 1,2 and 3 will be a our preferred option with lower customs clearance charges being applied. Currently being tested by several of our clients. We will have available a spreadsheet to download which can be used in our bulk upload tool or you can create your own based on it. We plan to make these customs clearance improvements available to all of our clients by the end of June.

Originally the UK government intended to reduce the majority of customs duties to zero.  However the UK government is now consulting on replacing the current import tariffs with 4 bands to cover the majority of goods.  The consultation will run from the 5th March 2020 and the government is wanting to hear from all business importing goods into the UK on how they feel the new tariff system should be implemented. Overall the UK government wishes to simplify the current complex tariff which it still shares with the EU until 31st December 2020.

The new import duties are expected to be consolidated around four bands.

As with the previous plan, certain products would be exempt and have their own custom import duty system. Currently there is no list available of what these products will be.

With the Conservatives winning the UK election on 12th December 2020, they had no problems in getting Boris Johnsons Brexit deal passed on the 20th December 2019. If the European Parliament agrees to the deal the UK will officially leave on the 31st January 2020. As a deal has been done there will be a transitional period which will run until 31st December 2020. At this point technically all the trade deals and other related legislation will be in place  with the EU and trade will then continue under these rules.

It is still possible for the UK to leave under a NO DEAL situation if the UK and EU are unable to agree final separation terms during the transitional period. In this case this would also happen on the 31st December 2020.

The new 2020 Incoterms to replace the current 2010 versions are now published. When negotiating freight terms in contracts it is important to be clear which Incoterms are being used. If not specified from the 1st January it will be assume that the new version applies. Efforts have been made by International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to make the terms much easier to use. They have adopted a new layout in the hope of reducing the common error of using the wrong Incoterms. Often both shippers and buyers have not released they are selling or buying under the wrong term until something goes wrong.

The new format endeavours to make it much easier to establish the differences and the responsibilities which each Incoterm comes with.

It is important for all shippers and buyers remember Incoterms are contractual and failure to supply the goods under these terms or as a buyer understand which term you are buying on may leave you liable for additional costs

The international Chamber of Commerce have highlighted the following rule changes:

Our Incoterms will be update to reflect the new 2020 terms.

We are still seeing potential shippers and consignees trying to ship extra goods in containers without declaring them. Most of the time these goods are either personal effects or gifts being sent without any commercial transaction being involved. Simply there is space left in the shipping container and it seems an obvious option to use it up.

You CANNOT do this without declaring the items on the packing list/shipping manifest. Even if they are you own goods they still MUST be declared. If you container is inspected by the local importing customs officials they will be a best unhappy and worst seize the goods (or even the entire container). This applies to virtually all countries.

The goods can be just given a nominal value on any shipping invoice if they are gifts or in the case of personal effects all items must be fully listed. Note you cannot declare a 5000USD item as a 10USD gift. Most customs have systems in place to notice undervalued items and will issue there own valuation and also a fine.

In summary again everything must be declared. If unsure you should speak to you importing customs broker or freight forwarder BEFORE the container is shipped


Current BREXIT Date: 31st January 2020

In order to make the BREXIT transition easier for organisations the UK government is introducing a transitional simplified procedure (TSP) when import goods. Traders registered for TSP will not need to make a full customs declaration at the border and will also be able to defer paying their customs duties.

Organisations which wish to use the TSP systems will have meet the following requirements:

  1. Be established in the UK
  2. Have an EORI Number
  3. Have the intention to import goods into the UK from the EU

There trader must then follow a set procedure either directly or through their appointed freight forwarder or customs broker on declaring the goods. More information can be found on the TSP page in our BREXIT guidance section.

For more information on BREXIT. See our general guidance which can be found here