A guide to import / export restrictions and flexibilities in the United Kingdom

With Brexit already raising countless questions about the UK’s ability to import and export goods across all industries in the future, the sudden impact of the Coronavirus has somewhat altered our focus – for now.  

The UK economy has been affected in four primary ways by the outbreak of the Coronavirus:

  1. Business Turnover has decreased dramatically
  2. Staff have had to be laid off and furloughed across all industries
  3. The cost of cold and flu remedies has increased dramatically
  4. Firms relying on import and export have seen massive supply chain issues

The final point has been impacted by the global disruption to production and shipping, which has affected not just the UK but every other country across the globe.

Imports in the UK

The import of all goods into the UK is regulated by the UK’s Open General Import Licence (OGIL) – a national trade control measure, which sets out prohibitions and controls import permissions. There are currently three types of control which determine import to the UK:

  • Bans – no import allowed
  • Quotas – import restricted to certain quantities
  • Surveillance – import monitored with licences

The kinds of items which typically fall under these restrictions include weapons, illegal drugs, and endangered plants and wildlife.

Monitoring imports and exports during the Coronavirus pandemic

The UK government launched a series of Business Impact of Coronavirus Surveys, to determine the levels of impact that the pandemic was having across business import and exports.

The latest survey, taken at the end of April and beginning of May, reported that 72% of exporting businesses were exporting less than normal, and 59% of importing businesses were importing less than normal.

Of this, the following percentages account for the challenges:

  • COVID-19 related transport restrictions accounted for 34% and 31% of challenges
  • Increases in transportation costs accounted for 21% and 18%
  • Destination countries’ border restrictions accounted for 17% and 12%
  • Closure of infrastructure accounted for 14% and 11%

30% of businesses reported that they have not experienced any challenges around exporting, and 19% said that they have not experienced challenges regarding their importing.

You can read more about these results here.

Changes to UK import and export regulations

One key change that the government has laid out is a change in the way that customs and border control works during the outbreak of Coronavirus.

  • All transit and export documents are now being handled electronically
  • Hard copies of all documents must be carried with the export or import
  • Export approvals must be granted to ensure exporting organisations follow designated export places, customs supervised exports, and local clearance procedures
  • Union goods must be presented at the departure office before release to transit is requested. Non-union goods can be released from approved places, such as customs warehouses.

Read more about customs regulations here.

PPE and Medical equipment exports

With mounting fears about the UK-wide shortage of PPE equipment, the government has put into place immediate steps to protect the availability of PPE supplies, by requesting that any exports of equipment outside the EU be subject to express authorisation by at least one member state.

This restriction on the export of PPE and medical equipment is designed to ensure the EU and UK have enough for their own use.

On top of this, the UK government has relaxed the import duty and VAT on any PPE or medical equipment brought into the UK from outside of the EU, during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Other measures put into place across the UK to protect levels of vital equipment include:

  • Medical gas provider BOC recalling any bottled oxygen supplied to vets, dentists and rugby clubs
  • EGR Group, which has a presence in the UK and is based in Brisbane, helping to supply the NHS with PPE visors manufactured in Australia
  • PPE leadership teams supporting the delivery and receipt of vital PPE deliveries to the UK

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