Brexit means big changes to the way we trade
What you need to know about regulation, documentation and tariffs when importing or exporting
The Government has agreed a trade deal with the EU.
In practical terms, this means that trade in goods will be free of tariffs and quotas.
However, there are still major changes. For importers:
From January 2021: Traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, must deal with basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records of imported goods, and have up to six months to complete customs declarations. There are checks on controlled goods such as alcohol and tobacco. Businesses also need to consider how they account for VAT on imported goods. There are physical checks at the point of destination on all high-risk live animals and a proportion of low-risk live animals.
From April 2021: All products of animal origin – for example meat, pet food, honey, milk or egg products – and all regulated plants and plant products will also require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.
From July 2021: Traders moving all goods will have to make declarations at the point of importation. Full safety and security declarations will be required, while for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) commodities there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples: checks for animals, plants and their products will now take place at GB Border Control Posts.
Ministers have unveiled a £20m SME Brexit Support Fund to help businesses adapt to these changes. SMEs will be able to apply for grants up to £2,000 to pay for support on importing and exporting ahead of import controls coming into force from April and July.
The Field Force Support Programme is offered by the Cabinet Office to support businesses that trade more than £250,000 of goods with the EU each year.
The support available ranges from invitations to specialist events, one-to-one query resolution, more access to business case studies and sector-specific guidance from policy experts. To be part of this programme you will need to answer some questions on your business and the goods you trade in.
Exporters are also subject to full customs procedures. An Export Health Certificate is required to export food or drink that contains products of animal origin such as meat, dairy or eggs. There are additional licences and procedures for controlled goods. There is guidance too on returning exports that have been rejected by the EU.
Here is the Government’s advice for businesses that trade internationally including step-by-step guidance on importing from and exporting to the EU, declaring goods brought into Great Britain and what you need to do to move goods using common and Union Transit.
In the light of the trade deal, this is the guidance on how to claim preferential rates of duty on goods covered in the deal and how to declare goods imported into the UK on your import declaration, the guidance on rules of origin for goods moving between the UK and EU and information on taxes and tariffs for EU businesses trading with the UK. There’s more information on rules of origin in this short explainer for SMEs and FAQs.
HM Revenue & Customs has written to VAT-registered businesses that trade with the EU and/or the rest of the world, highlighting actions they need to take. and it has issued guidance on the conditions for zero-rating VAT on the goods you export and what you should do when you export goods in specific circumstances.
There’s more detail in the Border Operating Model, a guide to how the border with the EU now works.
In addition to the advice above, we’ve compiled other other useful resources to help businesses:
- A list of customs agents and fast parcel operators that can handle customs declarations for you.
- Grants towards staff training or IT improvements if you choose to make your own customs declarations.
- Using the S&S GB service if you import goods into Great Britain and need to make an entry summary declaration.
- Using the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system to make import or export declarations.
- For products that require an export or import licence, there are changes to licence security.
- Check if you need an Open General Export Licence (OGEL) for export of certain controlled goods classed as dual-use items.
- Check when you can account for import VAT and guidance on completing your VAT return to account for import VAT.
- Claiming VAT refunds from EU countries.
- Paying VAT when you sell digital services to EU consumers.
- Using Union and Common Transit to move goods more quickly to EU and other Common Transit Convention countries.
- Changes to approved exporter authorisations
- Declaring reusable packaging for imports and exports
- Trading and moving goods in and out of Northern Ireland plus information on the Trader Support Service and the Movement Assistance Scheme (for agrifood goods, now expanded to include organic produce) and explanatory videos on trade with Northern Ireland.
- What to do if you’re moving goods or have goods in customs procedures at the end of the transition period on December 31
- Find out about the VAT treatment of transactions or movements of goods which span the end of the transition period
- The Seafood Disruption Scheme is available to seafood exporting businesses that have experienced a verifiable loss in value of their seafood consignment as a result of disruption when exporting to the EU. The scheme is open for applications February 28.
The Government’s trade tariff tool enables businesses to look up commodity codes to classify goods for import and export. You can fill in declarations and other paperwork, check if there’s duty or VAT to pay and find out about duty reliefs.
Tariffs do not apply to goods imported from a country the UK has a trade deal with, a country part of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences or where an exception applies. Where there is no trade deal, trade is subject to World Trade Organisation rules.
The Government has announced that certain imported goods will benefit from a temporary tariff suspension or reduction of duty from January 1.
Trade with some countries is subject to sanctions. You can get information on UK sanctions in place and how to apply for the appropriate licences.
The Government hopes that Brexit will allow it to strike new trade deals with non-EU countries. Here is information on trade agreements the UK is negotiating and which trade agreements the UK has already signed. The UK has also applied to join the Pacific Free Trade Area (CPTPP).
Here is information on technical issues affecting trade in specific products and services:
- Import licences and certificates for importing certain animals, food products, drugs, chemicals and waste
- Export licences and certificates for exporting certain animals, food products, chemicals, waste, controlled goods (such as firearms and military items) and diamonds, plus a goods checker to establish if your items are controlled and a portal to apply for an export licence
- Bringing goods to the UK through roll-on roll-off ports
- Moving goods in and out of Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland protocol, how VAT will apply to goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, how to get authorised to declare goods you bring into Northern Ireland that are not ‘at risk’ of moving to the EU so EU duty will not be payable, and using the new UKNI marking.
- Exporting excise goods (such as alcohol, tobacco and certain oils) and importing excise goods
- Exporting dual-use items (with both a civilian and military application) from the UK to EU
- Importing and exporting food and drink
- Importing and exporting wine
- Exporting composite food products such as lasagne, pork pies, pepperoni pizza or cream liqueurs
- Exporting fish, importing fish, exporting wild caught marine fishery products, giving prior notification to land fish in the EU and making a pre-landing notification to land fish at an EU port – in addition, the Government has announced £23m to support fishing export businesses that have been most adversely affected by the Covid pandemic and the challenges of adjusting to new requirements for exporting to the EU, and DEFRA and HMRC have compiled an online guidance package to guide fish exporters through each step of the export journey while the Marine Management Organisation’s One Stop Shop can help ensure you follow the new rules.
- Exporting live animals and animal products, groups of products of animal origin, how to identify livestock for export, advice on ear tags for livestock exporters and details of a fund to train vets to certify products of animal origin and equines for export
- Transiting animals and animal products through Great Britain
- Information on quotas and licences for importing pigmeat and poultry
- Importing animals, animal products and high-risk food and feed
- Using IPAFFS to notify authorities that you’re importing live animals and germinal products from the EU
- Exporting horses and ponies and importing horses and ponies
- Exporting GM food and animal feed products
- Exporting hops and hop products
- Importing and exporting plants and plant products and DUS protocols for testing plant varieties
- Importing and exporting live aquatic animals
- Importing and exporting timber
- Importing and exporting waste
- Making import or export declarations for reusable packaging
- Importing and exporting jewellery and trading internationally in rough diamonds
- Exporting objects of cultural interest
- Registration for the supply of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to consumers in the UK and European Economic Area
- Exporting active substances manufactured in Great Britain
- Exporting nuclear-related items, shipping radioactive sources to and from the EU, shipping radioactive waste and spent fuel
- and importing ‘relevant’ nuclear materials from the EU
- Returning rejected exports from the EU (controlled goods, animals, animal products, fish, plants, plant products and timber)
- Bidding for government contracts overseas
- The eCommerce Directive (which will no longer apply) and geo-blocking
The Department for International Trade has published guidance for EU businesses that want to continue trading with the UK.
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has recorded a podcast and webinar with Mark Rowbotham, an international trade consultant, exploring what Brexit means for importers and exporters. You can also watch HMRC videos aimed at businesses new to customs.
If you can’t find the information you’re looking for above, ask the Department for International Trade.