Non-binding tariff information – not a good idea

Many companies are looking for non-binding customs tariff information, but obtaining non-binding customs tariff information is often not a good idea. Why this is the case is shown in this article.

Non-binding tariff information is often worthless

A non-binding customs tariff information is provided by many main customs offices. Companies cannot make a formal request to obtain such information, but often non-binding information is provided by customs officials.

Non-binding information is provided, for example, in the context of customs inspections or in telephone calls with customs officials. The customs information hotline in Dresden also provides non-binding information on customs law.

However, all such non-binding information provided by the competent customs offices is, as the name implies, non-binding. They can therefore only ever give an initial idea of how customs will classify goods in the customs tariff, for example. However, companies cannot rely on non-binding information from the customs authorities if a legal dispute with them arises later. As a rule, companies cannot even invoke a so-called protection of legitimate expectations if customs has provided non-binding information. In addition, there is often the problem that non-binding information from customs cannot be sufficiently proven.

Better: Apply for binding tariff information

Companies can therefore only be advised to use the possibilities offered to them by customs law instead of providing non-binding information. For example, the Union Customs Code allows companies to apply for binding customs tariff information (BTI). If such an application is made and a BTI is issued, the goods tariff number for a product is bindingly stipulated therein. With such a binding tariff information, companies have security as to how their goods are to be classified in the customs tariff on import. In other areas outside the customs tariff number, there are unfortunately no measures to obtain binding information from customs.

Although the introduction of a binding customs value information system is currently being discussed, this has not yet been introduced.

When it comes to general information on customs law, companies can only make a non-binding enquiry to customs. As a rule, a legal review of customs information is also recommended here. In consulting practice, we have often noticed that incorrect or contradictory information has been provided by individual customs officials or the general information hotline of customs.

Non-binding customs tariff information for VAT purposes

The only area in which non-binding information on customs tariffs is VAT. These are issued if

  • whether goods are subject to a reduced VAT rate or not,
  • an application is made on the official form,
  • the import into the EU is not affected, but the request relates to deliveries or intra-Community purchases

Nevertheless, even in the case of non-binding customs tariff information for VAT purposes, there is always the risk that during a subsequent tax audit the opinion is held that the information provided is incorrect. Then it can come to value added tax back payments. Companies should therefore also seek advice on the question of what VAT rate applies.

You need not only non-binding information from customs, but certainty? Then please contact us regarding your customs issues.

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Lawyer Dr. Tristan Wegner

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