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:

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 British Chambers of Commerce has customs guidance including e-guides to customs declarations, rules of origin and tariffs. It also offers customs declarations training.

The Department for International Trade has  guidance  for individual countries on providing services and travelling for business.  An online tool to help exporters check duties and customs procedures.

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:

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.