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Seafood trade under the EU-UK Agreement. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement means new rules on how we trade seafood with the EU. 2021.This affects customs, tariffs, VAT and labelling.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) came in to force at 11pm on 31 December 2020. A summary and the full text including annexes have been published by the UK Government.

This pages covers some frequently asked questions we have received on trading with the EU and what it means for customs, tariffs and VAT on imported and exported products.  This information is guidance only and we would recommend that you check specific details in the TCA.


1. Will there still be checks at the UK/EU borders? 

Yes, there will be checks at the EU and UK border to ensure imported and exported products meet the required regulatory standards. Seafood exports from Great Britain (Northern Ireland is treated differently under the Northern Ireland Protocol) will need to be accompanied by the relevant documentation:

  • export health certificates
  • catch certificates
  • customs declarations

Please follow the advice in our I export Seafood guide.

2. Will I need to follow custom procedures and pay tariffs?

The EU and the UK have agreed not to apply import or export duties on goods of UK or EU origin traded between their territories. However the EU and the UK are in separate customs unions. This means customs and VAT procedures, such as the lodging of import and export declarations, will still be necessary even if no tariffs are payable.

We teamed up with the Institute of Export & International Trade to deliver an online seminar in December 2020 on preparing for customs procedures. The information included in the online seminar is still valid under the TCA. It covers:

  • What are Incoterms and why are they important?
  • Do I need a GB, XI or EU EORI number?
  • What can my customs agent do?
  • What are customs special procedures?
  • What is duty deferment?

Watch the recording below.

This webinar looks at the new customs requirements for UK seafood business trading into and out of the EU following the transition on 31st December.

Tariffs, Rules of Origin and VAT

3. What goods are classed eligible for zero tariff trade between the UK and the EU?

To be eligible for zero tariffs the goods must originate in the UK or EU (originating goods). This is an economic origin which is wider in scope than geographical origin as it also includes certain products which are not geographically originating but are processed in the EU or UK.

The TCA has criteria for what is classed as ‘originating’ goods. These are known as ‘Rules of Origin’. Defra have produced guidance on Rules of Origin.

4. What are the Rules of Origin (RoO) in the TCA?

‘Tariff-free’ status will only apply to products originating in the EU or the UK. The Rules of Origin (RoO) detail what qualifies as ‘originating’. The TCA allows seafood products to become originating in three ways.

a. Seafood can be ‘wholly obtained’: These are goods that have been exclusively obtained or produced in the territory of the UK or the EU, without using materials from any other country. This includes:

  1. Fish and shellfish farmed in the UK, including product farmed from imported seed or fry;
  2. Fish and shellfish caught in UK territorial waters (out to 12 nautical miles from shore);
  3. Fish and shellfish caught outside territorial waters provided it is caught UK or EU registered or owned vessels. For more detail on the criteria for classification as a UK or EU vessel see Question 19 or refer to Defra’s Rules of Origin guidance.

b. Bilateral Cumulation: Materials originating from the EU, as well as production carried out within the EU on non-originating materials, may be considered as also originating in the UK (and vice versa). This mechanism is known as bilateral cumulation.

You can only have bilateral cumulation where seafood originating in the EU undergoes production in the UK (and vice versa). See Questions 8-10 for an explanation of what ‘production’ would entail.

c. Meet specific production requirements: The seafood has undergone production as specified in the Product Specific Rules (PSRs) below. PSRs support certain types of production to satisfy the RoO requirement. These rules can confer a change of origin to EU, UK or in some cases seafood from other countries, to that of the country of production In the Seafood PSRs, the conditions needed for seafood to be originating are:

    1. For Chapter 3 products (i.e. goods classified under customs commodity code 03), all the Chapter 3 materials used in producing them must be wholly obtained as explained under (a) above.
    2. For seafood products with commodity codes from 160411 to 160418, all the materials of Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 16 used in producing these products must be wholly obtained.
    3. For seafood products with commodity codes starting with 160419, non-originating (i.e. non-UK, non-EU) materials other than non-originating Chapter 16 materials may be used in their production.
    4. For surimi that has a commodity code starting with 160420, non-originating (i.e. non-UK, non-EU) materials other than non-originating Chapter 16 materials may be used in their production.
    5. For all other products with commodity codes from 160420 to 160569, all the materials of Chapters 3 and 16 used in producing them must be wholly obtained.

For the above PSR rules to apply, the production that takes place must go beyond ‘insufficient production’ (Further detail on ‘insufficient production’ (i.e. processing) is given in Question 10).

Once a product has gained originating status, it is considered 100% originating. This means that if that product is incorporated in the production of a further product, its full value is considered originating and no account is taken of non-originating materials within it.

5. Are small amounts of non-originating material allowed?

Yes. A final product is still considered UK originating even if non-originating ingredients are used, up to a limit of 10% of the value (ex-works price) . Non-originating ingredients can include fish or non-fish material.

6. Does the TCA apply to European Economic Area (EEA) countries?

No, the TCA only includes the EU27 countries. EEA countries are considered as third countries. Trade with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein can continue under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules or, where applicable, under the terms of those countries’ trade agreements with the UK.

7. If the UK and the EU have a trade agreement with the same third country e.g. Norway, will material from the third country be considered originating in the UK or EU?

No, the TCA only allows bilateral cumulation using materials originating in the EU and the UK. For example, Norway has trade agreements with the EU and the UK with both parties paying zero or reduced tariffs on Norwegian fish. If fish is imported from Norway for production in the UK it will not automatically become UK originating under the terms of the TCA and tariffs may be incurred when exported to the EU. Similarly, fish imported from Norway into the EU will incur tariffs under the TCA if it is then re-exported to GB. The PSRs can provide limited exceptions (see Question 10 below).

8. What production must fish or shellfish imported from the EU undergo to become UK origin to secure zero tariffs when re-exported to the EU?

The TCA does not define the production needed, only that insufficient production is not acceptable. Fish and shellfish from the EU need to go ‘beyond insufficient production’ in the UK to become originating. We are seeking further clarity on how this will apply to seafood production but general examples of ‘insufficient production’ are:

  • Simple wrapping, packing and labelling activities
  • simple cutting and portioning
  • simple placing in bottles, cans, flasks, bags, cases, boxes, fixing on cards or boards and all other simple packaging operations
  • affixing or printing marks, labels, logos and other like distinguishing signs on products or their packaging
  • simple mixing of products. This can be the same product or different types of product.
  • simple addition of water or dilution with water or another substance that does not materially alter the characteristics of the product, or dehydration or denaturation of products

Simple’ refers to operations that do not require specialist skills, machines, apparatus, or equipment specifically produced or installed to carry out those operations.

9. Can non-EU/UK seafood be processed in the UK to become UK origin for re-export to the EU with zero tariffs?

There are two instances where the production process converts non-originating product into UK originating product which means it can be exported to the EU tariff free:

  1. Non-EU, non-UK materials are used to produce a product that is classified as 160419 in the customs classification. This would include, for example, coated frozen fish. For example, Norwegian fish block processed in the UK into frozen breaded pieces with commodity code 160419 will acquire UK origin. Similarly, Russian fish block processed in Germany into fish fingers with commodity code 160419 acquires German origin and can be imported into the UK tariff free.
  2. Non-EU and non-UK materials used to produce surimi that is classified under 160420 of the customs classifications will acquire UK or EU origin.

10. Do the non-seafood ingredients in my products also need to be of UK origin?

Non-originating non-seafood ingredients may be allowed in UK-originating products if:

  • They are allowed under the relevant PSR; or
  • The value of the added non-originating materials does not exceed 10% of the ex-works price of the product

11. How do I calculate the ex-works price?

The ex-works price is the price of the product paid or payable to the producer responsible for the last working or processing.. The price must include the value of all the materials used and all other costs incurred in the production of the product, minus any internal taxes which are, or may be, repaid when the product is exported.

If there is no price paid or payable, or if the price does not reflect the value of the materials and all other costs incurred, you will need to use an alternative method of valuation. You do this by adding together all the costs of the raw materials, all the costs of production, all administrative expenses and profit. Freight, insurance and other costs related to transport do not have to be included.

12. Would non-originating packaging contribute to the ex-works price when checking if non-originating materials exceed the 10% tolerance by value?

Packaging, packing materials and containers can be disregarded when deciding whether or not a product is originating.

13. Does the importer or exporter make the application for preference i.e. zero tariff rates?

The importer will make the claim for preference (i.e. that zero tariffs apply) by completing the relevant part on the customs import declaration. The importer needs to provide proof of origin to prove that the goods qualify as originating and are eligible to claim preference. In the TCA this proof can take the form of:

  • A statement of origin that the product meets the requirements, provided by the exporter on a commercial document; or
  • The importer’s knowledge, based on evidence that they hold, that the goods are originating.

The requirement to provide supplementary evidence will not apply until 31 December 2021 although you are required now to make the formal claim for preference.

14. What evidence will an exporter need to provide?

You should provide your customer (the importer) with sufficient information to allow them to make the declaration of qualifying goods. This could include:

  • A ‘statement of origin’ on a commercial invoice or other commercial document that describes where the goods have originated from;
  • Supporting documents and records to enable your customer to make the claim that the product is originating based on “importer’s knowledge”.

Further guidance on claiming preferential rates of duty is on the Gov.uk website.

15. Can I claim back tariffs paid on qualifying goods?

Yes. If you have paid the customs duty and later acquire valid proof of a products origin, you may be able to apply for a repayment of the duty after you have imported the goods. If you paid a duty that was not legally due, you have up to 3 years to make the claim, although shorter time limits can also apply, depending on the exact reason the duty was paid.

Further information on how to claim back duties paid is on the Gov.uk website.

16. Do I still need to pay VAT on qualifying goods?

Goods exported from the UK are exempt from VAT on proof that the goods have left the UK. However, exports will attract VAT in the importing country; this may not be the country where the product first enters the EU but rather the country where the product reaches its final destination.

Each Member State sets its own VAT rates which can be found by commodity code on an EU database

Seafood is zero rated for VAT in the UK so seafood imports will also be zero rated on import. These goods will also be exempt from any local VAT on export from the exporting country.

For more information on VAT, including direct sales with the EU, Accountancy Europe have produced advice covering different trading scenarios.

17. If I import seafood using the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), can I re-export them to the EU with reduced tariffs?

GSP goods are non-originating materials, so they do not qualify for preferences under the TCA if they are re-exported from the UK to the EU or from the EU to the UK.

18. What are the criteria that must be met for a vessel to be classified as EU or UK under the TCA?

A fishing vessel is a ‘vessel of a Party’ or a ‘factory ship of a Party’ if it meets the following criteria:

  • Is registered in the United Kingdom or an EU Member State.
  • Sails under the flag of the United Kingdom or a Member State; and
  • Meets one of the following conditions:
    • is at least 50% owned by nationals of the United Kingdom or a Member State; or
    • is owned by legal persons which each:
    • has its head office and main place of business in the United Kingdom or a Member State; and
    • is at least 50% owned by public entities, nationals or legal persons of the United Kingdom or a Member State.

19. What is the origin of fish landed into the UK or EU by UK or EU flagged vessels?

Fish caught within the UK’s territorial waters (out to 12nm) is UK fish regardless of whether it is caught by an EU or a UK registered vessel. The converse applies for fish caught from EU territorial waters.

Once beyond territorial waters the origin of the fish is determined by the flag of the vessel that catches it.

  • Fish caught beyond the UK’s territorial waters, and beyond the EU’s territorial waters, by a UK registered vessel that is then landed into either a UK or EU port is UK origin fish.
  • Fish caught beyond the UK’s territorial waters, and beyond the EU’s territorial waters by EU registered vessels and landed into either a UK or EU port is EU origin fish.

The Rules of Origin specify that UK fish can be landed into the EU tariff free, and vice versa. Complications arise if this fish is then re-exported to the EU or the UK. The Rules of Origin specify that EU fish imported into the UK can only be exported back to the EU if it has been sufficiently processed (see Q 9) so it becomes UK originating material. This will mean that if EU fish is landed into Peterhead and then loaded onto a truck and freighted to Europe, it will attract tariffs at the UK/EU border. The same will apply for fish that lands into Hantsholm in Denmark that is sent back to the UK without any processing – tariffs will need to be paid when the fish crosses from the EU to the UK.

In 2019 UK registered vessels landed 143,160 tonnes directly into the EU. For the same period EU registered boats landed 34,600 tonnes into the UK.

For help with anything to do with trading with the EU, email regulation@seafish.co.uk