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Landmark Red Tape Cut Planned For Intra-EU Shipping

by Ulrika Lomas, Tax-News.com, Brussels

09 July 2013


The European Commission released a new Communication on June 8, 2013, laying out plans to ease custom formalities for ships, reduce red tape on the industry, and mitigate delays at EU ports to make the sector more competitive.

The "Blue Belt" Communication has been drafted in response to freight forwarders and exporters' complaints about the heavy administrative burden at ports, additional costs and significant delays they face when sending goods across Europe by short sea shipping. Presently, ships can wait for hours and sometimes days in ports for customs clearance.

These obstacles make the maritime sector less attractive compared to other forms of transport, especially road transportation, adding to congestion on Europe's roads.

Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport said: "Europe is faced with major challenges in terms of rising congestion and pollution. We need short sea shipping to fulfil its potential and provide a low cost, environmentally-friendly transport solution, taking more goods off lorries and off our congested roads. We are proposing innovative tools to cut red tape and help make the shipping sector a more attractive alternative for customers looking to move goods around the EU."

Commissioner Algirdas Semeta, responsible for the taxation and customs union, added: "The Blue Belt will bring the single market to the seas. The proposed measures will greatly benefit shipping as they will reduce costs, simplify administration, facilitate trade and create a level playing field between all types of transport. At the same time this will simplify customs' work so they can better target security risks and focus on protecting our citizens and businesses."

Shipping companies, using a regular route within the EU and transporting mainly EU goods, can already benefit from lighter customs procedures (under the Regular Shipping Services procedures). New proposals, submitted by the Commission in June 2013, will upgrade this Regular Shipping Services to make the procedures, shorter and more flexible. The consultation period for member states will be shortened to 15, from 45 days, and companies will be able to apply in advance for an authorization for member states where they may want to do business, to save time if a business opportunity arises.

Almost 90 percent of ships carry both EU and non EU goods and stop frequently at EU and non-EU ports for example in Norway, Northern Africa and Russia. For these ships, the Commission is proposing to significantly improve customs procedures by putting in place a system which can distinguish between the Union goods on board (which should be swiftly discharged) and the non-Union goods on board, which must go through the appropriate customs procedures. For this purpose, the Commission will bring forward before the end of the year a proposal to create a harmonised electronic cargo declaration. This new "eManifest" will allow the shipping company to provide in all manifests (intra-EU and extra-EU) information on the status of goods to customs officials.

The two proposals are expected to make the "Blue Belt" in which ships can operate freely within the internal market, with a minimum of administrative burden, a reality by 2015. Currently, a ship moving between Antwerp and Rotterdam is still treated as though it came from China. This is because once ships leave member states' territorial waters they are considered to pass the EU's external borders. So ships travelling between ports in two different Member States are deemed to have left the EU Customs Territory and customs formalities are required when the vessel leaves the port of departure and again when the vessel arrives at the port of destination, even if both are EU ports.

The Secretary General of the European Sea Ports Organization, Patrick Verhoeven applauded the proposals, stating: "We welcome these proposals as a step in the right direction. We especially look forward to contributing to the definition and implementation of the e-Manifest. Its data elements, functionalities and procedures should be carefully analysed to ensure smooth integration in port operations and processes."

TAGS: marine | European Commission | Europe

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