Within hours, the transition period allowing the UK and European Union to make an orderly break following Brexit will come to a close.
Fears of a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ were averted on Christmas Eve with the adoption of a document known as the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Whilst it also covers the details of future security and governance arrangements, it’s the third component – the Free Trade Agreement – which was arguably most eagerly awaited because of its potential impact on commercial relationships between companies and consumers in both the UK and EU.
Such issues were of acute importance to the Irish Republic, which accounted for £38.3 billion worth of exports (that’s 5.5% of the UK’s total overseas’ sales) in 2019.
A significant proportion of that figure was made up of e-commerce orders placed by consumers in Ireland, one of the fastest-growing online retail markets in Europe.
Online purchases by Irish consumers, in fact, have topped £2.5 billion (€2.8 billion) during 2020 alone.
With a clear interest on both sides of the Irish Sea in how Brexit might affect sales, COLL-8 has considered the main points of the Free Trade Agreement for shoppers and shippers alike.
Administration and declaration
From the first of January 2021, UK firms exporting to the Republic of Ireland or anywhere else in the EU must have an Economic Operator Registration and Identification number (or EORI, for short), which is a unique code used to track goods sent to or from the EU.
They’ll also need to provide something known as an HS (Harmonised System) code, a six-, eight- or 10-digit classification that identifies specific items, what they’re made from and the country from which they’re dispatched.
In addition, each shipment – regardless of value – must be accompanied by a commercial invoice stating the type of items being sent and how much they cost.
Tax and tariffs
The trade deal between the EU and UK is based on zero tariffs and zero quotas but there are still circumstances in which duties will apply.
Items shipped from the UK and costing less than €150 (£135) will attract VAT but no duties, while products worth more than that amount will in principle not have duties applied.
It’s important to realise how the type of VAT will also change.
Most goods sent to the EU from the UK will be zero rated for VAT in the UK but traders will instead need to pay import VAT in the country of destination.
Furthermore, the issue of where goods were made or worked on – their origin – is critical in determining whether duties may be applied by customs authorities.
Goods which are either “wholly obtained” from the UK or EU or “substantially transformed” in either territory can qualify for preferential origin status and will, therefore, be zero rated for duty purposes.
However, if they have either been entirely made outside the EU or UK or are largely created elsewhere, they may only be classed as being of general origin, which may see duties applied by customs authorities in the country to which they are shipped.
The HS code, of course, can help determine goods’ composition and what additional production work may have been required.
Even so, it is not regarded as absolute proof of how items were sourced and so a certificate or declaration of origin will be necessary as well.
There’s no doubt that Brexit means attending to more paperwork to ensure that the delivery and even the return of e-commerce items continues as smoothly as possible.
Having said that, COLL-8 believes that the new Free Trade Agreement provides the basis of future success for retailers who want to tap into the appetite of Irish consumers for British goods and the growing demand of shoppers in the UK and much further afield for some of the Republic’s leading brands.
We don’t believe that a change in trading status means an obstacle to sales.
On the contrary, COLL-8 reckons that the Agreement has laid the foundations for further increases in online orders.