Maco Customs Service: brokerage, software & consultancy

Import declarations

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When a ship leaves a foreign port and sets sail for a European harbor, it has to report which goods it is carrying before departure. The European Union wants to know what products it can expect.  In this Import Control System or ICS the EU can even prevent certain undesirable goods from being loaded in the vessel or airplane in the outgoing port. So before a ship or plane arrives at a European (air)port, it has to file an Entry Summary Declaration.  By this information customs decides whether the goods should be checked and scanned for security reasons.       

When a container ship loaded with goods enters the national waters of a European harbor, the goods aboard that ship become “customs goods.” This means that they are under the control of customs from that moment on. The containers are unloaded at the container terminal while they are still under customs supervision. In general, a customs broker will make a customs declaration for each container or shipment, stating in detail all customs aspects of the goods in a particular container. The most important information in a customs declaration is:

  • The kind of goods according to the European Tariff System (TARIC)
  • The customs value of the goods upon crossing the EU’s external border
  • The country of origin according to EU regulations

Additional information such as the weight, the number of packages, etc. is relevant as well.

All this information is sent (electronically) to the Customs Administration when a customs broker files a customs declaration. The declarations are classified by Customs as low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk transactions, depending on some factors such as nature of the goods and country of origin. In some countries, like the Netherlands, this process is fully automated, while in others, a customs officer plays a major role in this process.

  • If the transaction is classified as low-risk, the goods are cleared without further investigation.
  • If the transaction is classified as medium-risk, the customs officer asks the broker to present the documents that accompany the goods. The officer can then take a closer look at the relevant aspects of the declaration. If there is no irregularity, the customs officer changes the status of the goods from customs goods to free circulation goods, meaning they are free for further transportation. If the customs officer is not satisfied with the information provided, he or she can order a physical inspection of the goods. The goods may have to go through a scan or be unloaded. A sample can be taken.
  • If the goods are classified as high-risk, they undergo a physical inspection. A sample can be taken.

After the declaration has been dealt with, customs control comes to an end and the goods are free-circulation goods, meaning they can be taken away without further interference. However, this does not mean that the declaration process has ended. Customs can do one of two things:

  • Close the declaration process, which means that the customs aspects are legally set and can no longer be changed. If relevant, customs duties and/or VAT have to be paid.
  • Leave the declaration process open, which means that customs holds the information for further investigation. It may want further documentation about for example the value or the origin of the goods. Or the sample that has been taken will have to be processed by the laboratory to determine the correct tariff code. This may take some days, weeks, or months. The customs broker remains liable during this investigation for all aspects of the declaration, including the financial liability.

Even when the declaration process has ended, Customs still has the opportunity to start a new investigation during the three consecutive years following the initial declaration and to reopen the procedure. New evidence may be found in the records of the importer or elsewhere that causes customs to change their findings and levy an additional tax. As the declaration process is becoming more and more computerized and thus faster, the administrative checks after the declaration have been ended become increasingly important for customs. It is a strong instrument to combat fraud.

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