UK Customs Law vs Customs Guidances

An article from our CEO, Catherine Truel, sharing her insights into the UK customs law. In particular on discrepancies between Customs guidance and the customs law.

Working daily with the over 90 regulations that make the UK new customs code, I am finding that there is increasingly a gap appearing between the provisions of the UK new (post-Brexit) customs legislation and the guidances published by HMRC, the UK Customs authorities. 

The guidances, at least most of them, are designed to explain the rules in layman’s terms. This is of course, most welcome for traders. Specially in the context of Brexit for those traders that are new to customs obligations. However, in some instances the guidances forget to mention the rules, which is creating a risk.

The best example is the guidances on classification such as “Finding commodity codes for imports into or exports out of the UK”.

The content of this document is approachable and probably of great help to new exporters and importers, particularly post-Brexit. However, it is silent on The Customs Tariff (Establishment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 where Reg 3 gives effect to the General Rules of Interpretation (GRI’s) which apply for the purposes of determining commodity codes. 

Guidances often have no legal value, but as an information document, they should reflect the legislation and the application of the GRI’s. Customs classification is already the most disputed area of customs law. Court cases show know how central the GRI’s are, not only in the process of classification, but in the parties arguments and judges decisions. 

Countries and customs authorities approach to guidance differ greatly depending on their legal system and culture. Let’s have a look at the the German guidance. It is slightly more technical to read but, in its own way, I think it is safer and help traders prevent future classification disputes.

Providing simplified guidances and supporting traders is highly welcome however, the complexity of the classification process can’t be hidden. Most traders just want to be compliant, for that, they should be reminded of the rules, in particular the GRI’s in government official publications.

Catherine Truel, CEO, Alegrant

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