Customs formalities

Customs and excise-related formalities are primarily designed to enable customs authorities to protect the financial interests of the European Union and its member states. This involves ensuring the proper collection and control of import duties, excise duties, and VAT, as well as monitoring compliance with numerous restriction and prohibition measures.

Both goods entering and leaving the customs territory of the European Union are generally subject to customs supervision and may be selected for customs controls.

Traditionally, customs has had a fiscal role. It is no coincidence that in Belgium, as in many other countries, the customs administration is part of the Ministry of Finance.

Customs is responsible for the collection and control of customs duties (including anti-dumping duties, countervailing duties, safeguard duties, and additional duties), excise duties, and VAT.

However, goods subject to declaration requirements are also, where applicable, subject to prohibitions or restrictions justified on grounds including:

  • public morality, public order, or public security
  • protection of the health and life of humans, animals, or plants
  • environmental protection
  • protection of national artistic, historical, and archaeological heritage
  • protection of industrial and commercial property

This includes controls on drug precursors, goods infringing certain intellectual property rights, and cash, as well as the implementation of measures for the conservation and management of fish stocks and trade policy measures.

The legislative packages of both the European Union and its member states contain numerous provisions, within the context of various policy areas, where customs authorities have control powers. Without aiming to create an exhaustive list, here are some examples from this extensive package:

  • safety and conformity of products
  • products containing ozone-depleting substances
  • organic production and labeling of organic products
  • market conditions for fresh fruit and vegetables
  • FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) licensing system for the import of timber and timber products
  • the transboundary movement of waste
  • supervision of the registration and evaluation, as well as the authorization and restrictions, regarding (hazardous) chemical substances (implementing the REACH regulation and the Rotterdam Convention on the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade)
  • protection of intellectual property rights
  • control of cash entering or leaving the EU
  • trade in diamonds and the Kimberley Process Certification for the international trade in rough diamonds
  • export of cultural goods
  • export, transfer, intermediary trade, and transit of dual-use products
  • protection of wild animal and plant species (CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention)
  • trade in seal products
  • the Union system to prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing
  • prevention and control of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species
  • veterinary checks for products of animal origin imported into the EU from third countries
  • the import of certain animal feeds and foods from certain third countries concerning the risk of contamination with aflatoxins
  • arms trade
  • data collection for statistical purposes concerning international trade ...

Naturally, it is the responsibility of market participants to comply with the aforementioned regulations. However, it should not be overlooked that, in many cases, an additional declaration obligation applies to customs.

Therefore, it is important to know when, at what time, and especially which data you need to provide, hand over, or simply make available for inspection to the customs authorities.

It goes without saying that a customs service provider, as an intermediary between market participants and the authorities, has an important role to play in this regard.