Reed Smith Client Alerts

Combating undervaluation fraud is high on the EU customs enforcement agenda. We have witnessed increased activity of Member State customs authorities, questioning declared values upon import after comparison with statistical values. Investigations focus on products with a high duty burden – such as footwear and textiles – but also sectors where fraud is widespread, such as e-commerce. In their efforts to recover customs duties, the European Commission and Member States resort to approaches that are not always in line with EU customs laws. Companies should be aware of their rights and obligations under the Union Customs Code, to mitigate the impact of these investigations.

Authors: Yves Melin

A brief history: from standard values to the real economic value

The introduction of the Common Customs Tariff required the European Communities (as the EU was named then) in 1968 to adopt a common customs valuation framework.1 Erasing differences between national provisions, this framework ensured a level playing field for importers throughout the Community. The starting point was the so-called ‘Brussels definition of value’,2 entailing a notional approach toward customs valuation by making use of standard values. Under the Brussels definition of value, the actual price paid for the goods was not of relevance.

With the conclusion of the Customs Valuation Agreement in 1980,3 the transaction value – that is, the price actually paid or payable for the goods when sold for export – became the primary basis for customs valuation purposes.4 The rules of this Agreement were incorporated into EU law and remain applicable today. The transaction price is to be adjusted whenever necessary to avoid the setting of arbitrary or fictitious customs values.5 If there is no transaction value, a number of consecutively applicable alternative valuation methods are at the disposal of the importer.6 The 1980 changes were adopted in order to foster international trade by creating a fair, uniform and neutral system of customs valuation excluding the use of arbitrary or fictitious values.7