VAT News

Customs changes impact imports into Germany

The European Union has introduced new customs legislation that will have a significant impact on all businesses who import goods into the EU. The Union Customs Code (“UCC”) was implemented formally in May 2016 and its impact is already being felt by several importers – most notably non-EU businesses trying to import goods into Germany.

The UCC is intended to achieve greater consistency among EU Member States on key customs issues and to create a fully electronic customs system linking the Member States' national systems through a single interface. The UCC should reduce customs compliance costs for certain "trustworthy" EU businesses, but it will make it more difficult for non-EU businesses.

For example, previously Germany did not stringently enforce the requirements surrounding who acts as declarant (also known as importer of record) at the time of customs clearance. As is the case in countries like Netherlands and the UK, the German customs officials used to allow importers who aren’t established in the EU to act as their own declarant if they obtained a non-resident VAT registration.

Since the introduction of UCC, Germany has changed their enforcement of this and they now require that all non-established importers must appoint a locally established company with a German EORI to act as the declarant.

This means that companies based outside the EU who were previously importing goods using their own non-established VAT number and EORI, will no longer be able to do so. Failure to appoint a representative to act in this regard can result in the goods being refused entry at the time of import.

Several carriers or shipping agents will be willing to act as the declarant on behalf of their customers, but you should check with your provide to make sure. If they are unwilling to offer this service, you will need to appoint a representative.

Direct representatives act in the name of, but on behalf of, another person.  If an agent is acting as a direct representative (meaning that the agent makes the customs declaration on your behalf, acting in your name), you are deemed to be the declarant and therefore liable for any customs debt, accuracy of the information given in the declaration, the authenticity of the documents presented and the compliance with all obligations.

Indirect representatives act in their own name but on behalf of another person. Where an agent acts as an indirect representative (i.e. they make the customs declaration on behalf of an importer in their own name), they are deemed to be the declarant. In such cases both the agent and the importer are jointly liable for the customs compliance issues mentioned above. 

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