Brussels, 30 March 2020

On the 30th of March, DG TAXUD has issued a Guidance on customs procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance lists a number of provisions from the UCC and related delegated and implementing acts that can be used as solutions to cope with problems arising from the corona crisis. The note is meant as a living document, that can be amended or supplemented, in view of the rapidly evolving situation. Most importantly, the note provides guidance on the following issues:

Customs decisions

Although it is underlined that customs authorities are not legally entitled to refuse applications for customs decisions that meet the legal requirements, economic operators are strongly encouraged to only apply for essential customs decisions, so customs authorities are able to prioritize the most urgent demands. Moreover, based on the last subparagraph of Article 22(3) UCC, a derogation from the 120 day general time limit to take customs decisions can be made.

Through this provision, the time-limit to take a decision can be extended upon request of the applicant, in case the applicant needs more time to fulfill the relevant conditions and criteria. Such a situation can arise, for example, when the applicant is not able to allow customs to enter his premises due to the quarantine measures.

Customs debts and guarantees

Although no general exemption is provided for in the guidance, the document does list a number of provisions customs authorities can use to take into account any possible “serious economic or social difficulties” of the debtor. However, it is the debtor himself who needs to document the likelihood of such economic and social difficulties, for example:

  • Article 45(2) and (3) UCC allow customs to suspend the implementation of a customs decision, even without a guarantee, if it is established on the basis of a documented assessment that such a guarantee would be likely to cause the debtor economic and social difficulties;
  • Article 112(1) and (3) UCC provides that customs authorities may refrain from requiring a guarantee or charging credit interest if it is established on the basis of a documented assessment that this would create serious economic or social difficulties;
  • The Commission is currently taking actions to make the temporary admission of items for disaster victims of the COVID-19 crisis free of customs duties and VAT, thereby de facto also waiving the guarantee requirement for these particular goods;
  • Under normal circumstances, a customs debt occurs if the time limit of 90 days for temporary storage of goods is exceeded. This time limit cannot be prolonged without amending the UCC.  However, in case an economic operator is not able to place the goods under a customs procedure or to re-export them within the 90 days’ time-limit, he can evoke force majeure.