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Customs reform: Online trivial purchases in non-EU countries can become more expensive

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Customs reform: Online trivial purchases in non-EU countries can become more expensive

For the first time, EU citizens may incur customs duties for many online purchases from suppliers outside the European Union. A proposal by the EU Commission provides for numerous goods with a value of less than 150 euros to be subject to customs duties. This was announced by EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday in Brussels. “Consumers may see a very small increase in the price of low-value goods,” a spokeswoman said. So far, no duty has to be paid for most goods if the value is less than 150 euros. There are few exceptions to this rule; they relate to tobacco and perfume, for example.

However, the reform should not affect holiday purchases that travelers bring into the EU in their personal luggage. Each EU member state is responsible for setting the rules that apply at airports.

Gentiloni explained that the aim is not to burden customers with high price increases for low-value goods. The tariffs incurred on such packages are very low. However, such shipments made up “the overwhelming majority of what goes through our customs today”. Shopping platforms are quite capable of including this customs duty in their service, he explained. However, by eliminating the duty exemption for these low-value goods, the EU could have around one billion euros more at its disposal than before, he said. The reform plans are still only a proposal from the Commission. The next step is the approval of the EU member states and the European Parliament.

With the reform, European politicians want online shopping portals in particular to be responsible for paying customs duties and VAT when making a purchase. As a result, consumers would no longer be confronted with hidden fees or unexpected paperwork when packages with ordered goods arrive, the Commission said in a statement. “The reform will also give EU consumers peace of mind that the goods they buy are properly controlled, are safe for them and their families and meet EU sustainability standards,” said a spokeswoman.

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Online trading has led to an exponential number of deliveries of small, low-value packages to the EU in recent years. At the same time, electronic trade has become extremely susceptible to fraud due to the current duty exemption for goods worth less than 150 euros. It is estimated that senders intentionally undervalue around 65 percent of the parcels they send to the EU. In addition, the current exemption encourages sellers to split larger shipments into smaller packages, which in turn leads to more packaging waste and increased carbon emissions.

In addition to the regulation on low-value goods, the Commission wants to overhaul other aspects of the customs system in the EU. A core of the measures should be the establishment of an EU-wide customs authority by 2028. This should gradually replace the 27 independent systems of the member states with a centralized system and save the states up to two billion euros per year in operating costs. One of the aims is to reduce the administrative effort. “We are not building a customs frontex,” emphasized Gentiloni on Wednesday.

The European consumer organization BEUC welcomed the Commission’s plans. The bundling of authorities is a step to protect consumers in global markets, it said in a statement. The Dutch State Secretary for Customs, Aukje de Vries, said: “It is important for citizens that the external border of the Union becomes more secure.” About a third of all imports into the EU come through the Netherlands, she explained.

The financial policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Markus Herbrand, criticized the abolition of the 150-euro limit: There is a risk of massive additional work for both customs and market participants, he said.

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