Seafood export guidance | Seafish

Seafood export customs, tariffs and VAT

Explanation of new customs, tariffs and VAT rules for businesses moving seafood from Great Britain to the EU.

This page provides seafood exporters in Great Britain with a step-by-step guide. Throughout the guidance Scotland, England and Wales is referred to as Great Britain or GB. Northern Ireland is operating under different custom rules through the Northern Ireland protocol. This is covered on our Trading seafood under the Northern Ireland Protocol page.

Checklist for exporting seafood from Great Britain to the EU

Seafood is exported from Great Britain via road, air or sea. The goods arrive at the customs border where they are declared. The duty and VAT is calculated and due for payment to the importing country at the point of customs clearance.

There are nine steps to consider when importing seafood from the EU to Great Britain.

Responsibility for import tariffs and VAT

The International Commercial Terms (known as incoterms), agreed during the terms of the sale, will define if the buyer or seller is responsible for import tariffs and VAT. 

If the incoterms are DDP (delivered duty paid) the seller in Great Britain would be responsible for the local duty and VAT for import into the relevant country. All other incoterms 2020 would deem the buyer responsible.   

Commodity codes

The commodity code, sometimes referred to as the harmonised system code, is a ten digit code format used internationally. It is essential to know the commodity code of your items to ensure they are classified correctly and that the tariffs and VAT charges are correct. You can search for commodity codes on the government website. If you are still unsure, HMRC provide a help service for classifying your goods.

Import tariffs and VAT rates

Once you know the correct commodity code, you can look up the import tariffs and VAT rates for the country you send your goods to.   

If you are sending goods to the European Union you can check the tariffs using the EU TARIC. It is important to note that although the tariffs will be the same for all member countries, the VAT is not. You can check the VAT rates using the tariffs in Europe database 

Claiming preferential tariffs

Some goods are eligible for zero tariffs under the UK - EU Trade and Cooperation agreement. To claim these tariffs the importer will have to meet the Rules of Origin criteria to determine that the goods can claim origin from the specified country and qualify for the rate. For more information on Rules of Origin, watch our webinar on our YouTube channel. 

The government website has an advance tariff search using the commodity and country you are trading with. It will tell you if there is a free trade agreement in place and show the rate, as well as the third party rate for comparison.  

Paying customs duty

There are special customs and transit procedures that allow businesses to reduce or eliminate the amount of duty they will pay. It is important to look at your product journey to see if mitigating the duty is possible. Some examples of these procedures are given below.    

When using any customs special procedures, traders are advised to seek approval by the relevant customs authorities.  

Customs warehousing 

Customs warehousing is when the goods are sent into storage and the duty is suspended until the goods are released into free circulation. In an export scenario this may be useful if the goods remain in storage for a while, meaning you do not have to pay the duty prior to the goods being sold.  End use relief 

Union transit/common transit 

Union transit and common transit procedures can be used to move goods through or across Europe. Union transit is used when the final destination is in Europe. Common transit is used when the goods move through Europe but the final destination is out with Europe. The idea is that the customs duty and VAT is suspended while the goods are in transit and will be paid when they arrive and the final destination.   

Documentation needed to export seafood from Great Britain to the EU

You need the following document to export your goods:  

  • Invoice (stating EORI number)
  • Packing List 
  • Bill of lading/cmr/ airway bill 
  • Declaration (supplier, customs or transit) 
  • Certification (export health certificate/CHED, catch certificate)  

Making customs declarations

Many traders use a freight forwarder or customs agent to do the customs entry on their behalf. This ensures smooth movement of goods. The customs agent uses the documentation as set out above to make the custom entry. The government website has some guidance on finding an agent and the preparations you will need to make.   

The customs declarations must declare what you intend to do. For example, if you are trying to claim preferential tariffs you will need a supplier declaration. If you intend to use a special customs procedure the correct code needs to be selected on the declaration.  

VAT registration

Businesses from GB who export their goods do not charge UK VAT on their invoices. However, once the goods have been exported you may be subject to local VAT in the importing country.   

Please use the following as a guide to consider whether you are liable for local VAT in Europe: 

1. Are you trading over the threshold of the country you are exporting to? A list of the thresholds for European member states

If the answer is yes – go to question 2.  

If no – no VAT registration required.  

2. Are you the importer on record? Check who is responsible for import tariffs and VAT. 

3. If the answer is yes – you are liable for the duty and VAT.    

If no – no registration required.  

Most customs will give you the option to pay the VAT, have a custom or transport agent pay the VAT or defer the payment.   

Export records for HMRC

HMRC require the following documents as proof that the goods were exported out of the country:   

  • Commercial invoice (please check that your invoice meets the necessary conditions)
  • Packing List 
  • Transport documents (e.g. airwaybill, CMR, bill of lading)
  • Customs Entry
  • Goods departure message  

It is important to keep proof of export, as this is the evidence that the goods are not VAT taxable in the UK. HMRC require these records to be kept for 6 years.   

Contact us

If you have a question about exporting seafood to Great Britain or any other seafood regulation queries, contact our Regulation team directly.