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Newsletter:

Covid-19 | Customs & International Trade Update

17 April 2020

This newsletter seeks to address the EU and Irish Customs and Trade actions undertaken in response to Covid-19; with a particular focus on trade specific issues and measures taken to support EU Importer and Exporters, alleviate problems in the Supply Chain, and to facilitate the distribution of essential medical and food supplies.

Some of these measures taken by the EU were in direct response to restrictions on the internal movement of goods and the increase in border restrictions. These restrictions were seen as a step back from the free movement of goods and people we are all accustomed to within the EU’s Single Market; while others measures were taken to facilitate importers and exporters in terms of customs simplifications and cash-flow support.


EU Update

European Commission informs WTO on new set of coronavirus measures

In a continued commitment to transparency, the EU informed the WTO about coronavirus-related EU and Member States initiatives on 24 April. These include measures to address the economic consequences of the pandemic. This follows the notification on a first round of measures on 7 April this year.
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Coronavirus: Commission adjusts export authorisation scheme for personal protective equipment to suit current needs

On 24 April 2020, the Commission published a new export authorisation scheme for personal protective equipment (PPE). It reduces the list of products that require export authorisation to masks, spectacles and protective garments, extends the geographical exception (including to the Western Balkans) and requires Member States to swiftly grant authorisations for exports for humanitarian purposes.
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The EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan, laid out the Impact of Covid-19 on EU trade and plans for economic recovery on Thursday 16th April. Click here to view a copy of Commissioner Hogan’s speech.

The Commissioner in his speech noted:
  • The Covid-19 pandemic will have serious short and long-term consequences on the global economy and on trade, besides its immediate major consequences for health.
  • An open trade policy will need to be part of any future economic recovery plan.
  • The full benefits can be reaped only if there is a suitable international environment, which limits protectionism and encourages openness, cooperation and coordination, all in a stable legal environment. We need open and rules-based trade and to lead by example, urging our international partners to commit to the same.
Other notes of particular attention included:
  • Rules-based trade is essential, especially in times of crisis and as part of our strategy to exit the crisis; and
  • The EU must respect our Single Market and ensure that there are no internal barriers to intra-EU trade
We can see this opinion reflected in many of the measures outlined below:
  • Click here to view a full list of Customs Measures undertaken by the EU Commission.
  • In addition, the EU have produced a full overview of exceptional measures taken by MS Customs Authorities during Covid-19 which is reproduced here.

 

Snapshot of some of the key measures which have been taken

Outlined below is a snapshot of some of the measures which have been taken on an EU and Irish Level. Click here to view details for Irish Customs (EU measures can be accessed above).
 

European Commission narrows down export authorisation requirements and extends geographical and humanitarian exemptions

On 14 April 2020, the European Commission started consultations with EU Member States on a draft regulation to adjust the export authorisation scheme set up on 15 March as an emergency measure that elapses on 25 April 2020. The new scheme proposes to narrow down the product scope to protective masks only, and to extend geographical and humanitarian exemptions. In line with the EU’s global commitments in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the scheme in the draft regulation is temporary, targeted, proportionate and transparent. The new regulation is set out to apply for a limited period of 30 days (as of 26 April 2020).

Green lanes

There have been a lot of discussions regarding the introduction of “Green Lanes” to facilitate the movement of goods through Member States within the EU.

These were introduced, as stated above, to facilitate the movement of goods and to prevent the delays and bottlenecks that were building at Internal Member States borders. As a result, the EU Commission requested Member States to designate all the relevant internal border crossing points on the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) as “green land” border crossings. These Green Lanes were introduced for all freight and the Commission called for Member States to ensure that delays crossing these borders, including any checks and health screening of drivers, should not take more than 15 minutes.

The Guidelines were published on 16th March and 23rd March – see below:
The Commission states in these Guidelines that:
  • In order to preserve the EU-wide operation of supply chains and ensure the functioning of the Single Market for goods, wherever internal border controls exist or have been introduced Member States are requested to designate immediately all the relevant internal border-crossing points of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) and additional ones to the extent deemed necessary, as “green lane” border crossings – for land (road and rail), sea and air transport.
  • Going through these “green lane” border crossings, including any checks and health screening of transport workers, should not exceed 15 minutes on internal land borders. The “green lane” border crossings should be open to all freight vehicles carrying any type of goods.
  • Member States should act immediately to temporarily suspend all types of road access restrictions in place in their territory (week-end bans, night bans, sectoral bans, etc.) for road freight transport and for the necessary free movement of transport workers.
  • Transport workers, irrespective of their nationality and place of residence, should be allowed to cross internal borders. Restrictions such as travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine of transport workers, should be waived, without prejudice for competent authorities to take proportionate and specifically adapted measures to minimise the risk of contagion.
In addition, in order to protect the functioning of the Single Market - where Member States impose restrictions to the transport of goods and passengers on grounds of public health, it should be done only if those restrictions are:
  • Transparent, i.e. enshrined in public statements/documents;
  • Duly motivated, i.e. they need to spell out the reasons and the link to Covid-19. Justifications must be science-based and supported by World Health Organization (WHO) and European Centre for Disease Prevention (ECDC) recommendations;
  • Proportionate, i.e. not going beyond what is strictly necessary;
  • Relevant and mode-specific, i.e. restrictions on any of the different transport modes must be adapted to that mode;
The Commission also noted in relation to medicinal and agri-food products :
  • No restriction should be imposed on the circulation of goods in the Single Market, especially (but not limited to) essential, health-related and perishable goods, notably foodstuffs, unless duly justified; and
  • No additional certifications should be imposed on goods legally circulating within the EU single market. It should be noted that, according to the European Food Safety Authority, there is no evidence that food is a source or a transmission source of Covid-19.

Duty suspensions on medical equipment

On 03 April, the European Commission decided to approve requests from member states and the UK to temporarily waive customs duties and VAT on the import of medical devices and protective equipment from third countries in order to help in the fight against coronavirus.

This measure included masks and protective equipment, as well as testing kits, ventilators and other medical equipment. It will apply for a period of 6 months, with a possibility for further extension.
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_575

The measure was introduced retrospectively from 30th January in Decision C(2020)2146 final and covered free of charge distribution of these goods. This was implemented by the Revenue Commissioners and further information is supplied here regarding application and refund forms.

It is important to note that the relief is only available for goods to combat the effects of Covid-19 imported by or on behalf of:
  • State organisations including State bodies, public bodies and other bodies governed by public law and
  • Disaster Relief Agencies
  • Organisations approved by Revenue including organisations regulated by the State and involved in the care, support and treatment of people at risk of COVID-19.
The goods also should be intended for either:
  • Distribution free of charge to persons affected by; at risk from; or involved in combating the COVID-19 outbreak by the bodies and organisations referred to above
  • Available to the persons affected by or at risk from or involved in combating the COVID-19 outbreak free of charge while the goods remain the property of the bodies and organisations referred to above.
Full details regarding the application and refund process are attached here.

Transit Simplifications

A number of simplifications have been introduced to assist the transit of goods including;
  • Placing goods under transit without presenting them to Customs
  • Extended Time Limits
  • Alternative identification measures to sealing and
  • Use of scanned instead of original documents.
Click here for a full list of simplifications.


Ireland Specific

In Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners, along with introducing the reliefs above for goods intended to combat COVID -19 have also introduced the following:
  • Critical pharmaceutical products and medicines will be given a Customs ‘green routing’ to facilitate uninterrupted importation and supply.
  • Export Authorisations - Export Licensing requirements have been introduced in relation to the export of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, gowns and eyewear. If you do export these products please see the conditions attached here.
  • Customs Audits - In general, Revenue have advised that they have suspended audit and other compliance intervention activity on taxpayers’ premises until further notice. Where possible, they will continue to engage with businesses to finalise open interventions through MyEnquiries or by telephone.
  • Customs Special Procedures Authorisations due for renewal in March and April have been extended to 31st May.
  • Ports - Simplifications have been introduced at the Ports to facilitate movement of Lo-LO goods. In this regard, click here for eCustoms updates on measures being introduced to combat the effects of Covid-19 on Imports. In particular, this includes simplifications introduced by Customs at controlled compounds in Dublin Port.
  • Simplifications for the submission of Original Documentation to Customs - Revenue have provided for the provision of scanned origin documentation by way of Customs Notification 005/2020 as follows:

“in the circumstances of the current COVID-19 restrictions, a scanned copy of original documents submitted through MyEnquires will be accepted in the clearance of consignments. The original must be retained by all declarants and made available for inspection by Customs if requested or during a post-clearance check.”

  • Department of Transport updates - The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) website provides details of transport measures taken in response to Covid-19 together with a specific link to real-time monitoring of delays / disruptions at borders across the EU and with 3rd Countries.
Please see below for updates from the Department of Transport in relation to measures being taken in the Transport area in relation to Covid-19.

DTTAS:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ed29dc-irelands-response-to-covid-19-transport-measures/

Real-time Monitoring:


In addition, the Government has designated, on a temporary basis, five strategic maritime routes into and out of Ireland as Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes during COVID-19 for a period of up to three months. These are Dublin/Cherbourg and Rosslare/Fishguard, Pembroke, Cherbourg and Bilbao.


Finally, it is also important to be aware that as a result of the current crisis, we are seeing an upsurge in Protectionism on a Global Level. It is important that we therefore continue to refer to the EU position on this and, in particular, to Commissioner Hogan’s comments that:

  • An open trade policy will need to be part of any future economic recovery plan
  • The full benefits can be reaped only if there is a suitable international environment, which limits protectionism and encourages openness.

Click below to access our latest insight on Protectionism.