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Guidance on Customs issues related to the COVID-19 emergency

As a result of the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, questions have emerged concerning the application of customs provisions relating to the customs decision-making process, customs procedures and customs formalities. For the particular cases outlined in the Guidance, a number of existing provisions have been identified that provide valid solutions in these exceptional circumstances. The objective of the issued document is, therefore, to offer guidance to the concerned stakeholders on practical solutions given by the current legal framework, in order to ensure a uniform application of the Union Customs Code even in this time of crisis. As the situation can evolve rapidly and imply further guidance on additional issues, this note is intended as an evolving document that will be updated as needed.

[European Commission: Taxation and Customs Union]

Coronavirus: European Commission waives customs duties and VAT on the import of medical equipment from non-EU countries

The Commission has decided on 3 April 2020 to approve requests from Member States and the UK to temporarily waive customs duties and VAT on the import of medical devices, and protective equipment, from third countries in order to help in the fight against coronavirus. This will make it easier financially to get the medical equipment that doctors, nurses and patients desperately need.

This measure includes masks and protective equipment, as well as testing kits, ventilators and other medical equipment.

The Commission decision will be applicable retroactively from 30 January 2020 until 31 July 2020, with a possibility for further extension. This allows imports carried out during the incipient phase of the outbreak to also benefit from the exemption.

The duty and VAT free importation applies to:

  • state organizations (state bodies, public bodies and other bodies governed by public law including hospitals, governmental organizations, communes/towns, regional governments, etc.);
  • charitable or philanthropic organizations approved by the competent authorities of the Member States.

[European Commission: Press Release]

[European Commission: Taxation and Customs Union]

European Commission publishes FAQ to complement guidance on export requirements for personal protective equipment

On 1 April 2020, the Commission has published a document with frequently asked questions to complement the guidelines published on 20 March 2020. These documents assist Member State authorities and businesses in the implementation of the export authorization requirements for personal protective equipment, introduced on 15 March 2020. The requirements are a temporary measure and in line with all of the EU’s international obligations.

[European Commission: Trade]

EU-Vietnam: Council of the European Union gives final green light to free trade agreement

Council of the European Union on 30 March 2020 adopted a decision on the conclusion of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and Vietnam. This decision clears the path, on the EU side, for the entry into force of the agreement.

Once the Vietnamese National Assembly also ratifies the FTA, the agreement can enter into force, most likely in early summer 2020.

The FTA provides for the almost complete (99%) elimination of customs duties between the two blocks. 65% of duties on EU exports to Vietnam will disappear as soon as the FTA enters into force, while the remainder will be phased out gradually over a period of up to 10 years. As regards Vietnamese exports to the EU, 71% of duties will disappear upon entry into force, the remainder being phased out over a period of up to 7 years. The FTA will also reduce many of the existing non-tariff barriers to trade with Vietnam and open up Vietnamese services and public procurement markets to EU companies.

The EU-Vietnam trade deal also contains important provisions on intellectual property protection, labor rights and sustainable development. The FTA includes commitments to implement International Labor Organization core standards and UN conventions relating for example to the fight against climate change or the protection of biodiversity.

[Council of the European Union: Press Release]


Middle East

Europe and Iran complete first INSTEX deal dodging US sanctions

Europe and Iran have completed their first transaction under a complicated barter system set up to dodge US sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday (31 March) that the creation of the INSTEX mechanism has enabled the export of medical devices from Europe.

The ministry — speaking on behalf of Germany, France and the UK — said the mechanism would allow many other transactions to proceed.

The system was devised more than a year ago after Washington re-imposed biting sanctions on Iran’s oil industry after Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between six world powers and Tehran.

European firms had no option but to cease trading with Iran and cancel joint-venture projects for fear of being impacted by US penalties.

INSTEX aims to at least partially maintain that trade and thereby save the nuclear agreement.

Transactions can now be carried out via INSTEX, a protective shield that ensures that no money directly changes hands.

[Deutsche Welle]



Pressure builds for EU to back new African debt relief programme

African finance ministers want the European Union, International Monetary Fund and World Bank to support a multi-billion debt relief programme for the continent amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“The call for debt relief … should be for all of Africa and should be undertaken in a coordinated and collaborative way,” the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said in a statement following a videoconference of African finance ministers on Tuesday (31 March).

In a paper published earlier in March, UNECA warned that African oil exporters face losses of up to US$65 billion, with total fuel export revenues falling to $101 billion this year.

Meanwhile, the continent’s dependence on imported medical and pharmaceutical products, and the fact that only 15 African countries are net food exporters, also poses the risk of inflation.

UNECA estimates that an additional $10.6 billion in healthcare spending will be required across the 54 African nations.

Financing that extra spending and covering the costs of lost trade will require substantial assistance and new investment programmes from the international community, of which the EU is the biggest aid donor and trade partner.

African finance ministers last week called for an immediate emergency economic stimulus worth US$100 billion.