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Northern Powerhouse European Union

Importing goods from the EU

Key Changes

Find out more about what businesses need to do

Regardless of ‘deal or no deal’ businesses importing goods from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein need to plan for change. Under Government’s new guidance there are a raft of new processes, systems and associated costs which you need to review and prepare for now.

From the 1st of January 2021 there will be extensive changes to border controls for the importing of goods from the EU into Great Britain. As we have left the Customs Union and Single Market full border controls at our ports will be required, resulting in considerable changes for businesses importing from the EU.


These changes are being introduced in 3 phases up until 1 July 2021. The stages are:


From January 2021:

  • Traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records of imported goods.
  • Traders will also need to consider how they account for and pay VAT on imported goods. Traders will then have up to six months to complete customs declarations. While tariffs will be payable where due on relevant goods, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made.
  • UK Safety and Security declarations will not be required on imports for the first six months. Standard customs declarations will be needed from this date for controlled goods and excise goods like alcohol and tobacco products.
  • There will also be physical checks at the point of destination or other approved premises on all high-risk live animals and plants, and a requirement to pre-notify for certain movements, but they will not be required to enter GB via a Border Control Post (BCP).
  • Export declarations and UK exit Safety and Security declarations will be required for all goods. Traders importing and exporting goods using the Common Transit Convention will need to follow all of the transit procedures - these will not be introduced in stages.
  • The goods vehicle movement service (GVMS) will be introduced from January only for transit movements.
  • Companies importing goods will need to adapt to new import tariff schedules, applying the UK’s new global tariff (UKGT) for all markets where the UK does not a preferential trading deal and checking the terms of any new preferential trade deal, including with the EU.

From April 2021:

  • All products of animal origin (POAO) – for example meat, honey, milk or egg products – and all regulated plants and plant products will require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.
  • Any physical checks will continue to be conducted at the point of destination until July 2021.

From July 2021:

  • Traders moving any goods will have to make full customs declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs.
  • Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for commodities subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls, these will have to be presented to BCPs and there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples.
  • SPS checks for animals, plants and their products will take place at GB Border Control Posts and not at destination.
  • The GVMS will be in place for all imports, exports and transit movements at border locations which have chosen to introduce it.

After July 2021, the trading conditions will default to the negotiated EU/UK Free Trade Agreement or no deal depending on the outcome of the negotiations.

Custom Duties - The UK Global Tariff

The UK Global Tariff will apply to all goods you import from 1 January 2021 unless an exception applies. Such as, the goods you’re importing:

  • Are from a developing country that pays less or no duty because it’s part of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences
  • Are from a country that has a trade agreement with the UK
  • Have a relief or tariff suspension that’s operated by the UK


The UKGT will replace the current common external tariff and will result in 60% of relevant imports into the UK being tariff free (as compared to 47% under the EU’s Common External Tariff and 88% under the UK’s previous no-deal tariffs). Its key features are:

  • It simplifies 40.2% of tariff lines by rounding tariffs down and eliminating low and so-called nuisance tariffs
  • It eliminates tariffs on certain products where UK domestic production is zero, or very low, for example, cotton, textile fibres and woo
  • It scraps the Meursing table, which is currently used to determine tariff codes on foodstuffs.  This should result in a significant reduction in the complexity faced by businesses in determining the rate of customs duty applicable to over 13,000 goods
  • It retains high tariffs on sectors the EU wishes to protect, including the agricultural, automotive and ceramics industries by aligning these tariffs broadly to the EU Common External Tariff
  • It will impose high tariffs on agricultural imports, e.g. up to 12% + £254GBP/100kg on beef, and £139GBP/100kg on cheese.  
  • It leaves imports of finished pharmaceutical products and most medical devices tariff free, but applies a duty imposition of 6% on Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and key chemicals to produce APIs.
  • It imposes a temporary zero tariff rate (and VAT waiver) to certain products used to protect against Covid-19 including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medical devices, disinfectant, and medical supplies from non-EU countries.
  • It applies 0% rate of customs duty to imports of aircraft, helicopters and many aircraft parts.
  • It cuts tariffs on over 100 low carbon products.

It duplicates the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences so that products from the poorest countries will continue to attract no tariffs to protect their trade. 
To check UK trade tariffs from the 1st January 2021 businesses need either the commodity code or description of their product. If you’re not sure how to classify goods, check how to find the right commodity code.


Should the UK agree a trade deal with the EU the tariffs on EU goods may change so it’s important to monitor latest guidance.

Import VAT

VAT will be levied on imports of goods from the EU, following the same rates and structures as are applied to Rest of World imports. VAT registered importers will be able to use postponed VAT accounting, however unless they are eligible to defer their supplementary declarations, will not be compelled to do so.


Non-VAT registered importers have the same options available to report and pay import VAT as they do for customs duties. VAT treatment of goods imported in consignments not exceeding £135 in value will be treated differently to those goods in consignments exceeding £135.

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