Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic many things are uncertain. For businesses, this is further compounded by the rapidly changing and temporary measures that governments are launching to limit the financial fallout of the outbreak. To ensure businesses are not accidently caught out by these new measures, it is important for companies importing and exporting goods to keep abreast of latest developments.
To help businesses come to grips with the impacts of COVID-19 on export control, representatives from the UK Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU), during a webinar organised by the Institute for Export, provided guidance on: (1) the ECJU’s response to COVID-19; (2) regulatory changes in response to COVID-19 in the UK; and (3) worldwide regulatory changes.
1. ECJU’s Response to COVID-19
The ECJU has confirmed that all government departments, including the Department for International Trade, are committed to assisting businesses to continue trading despite COVID-19. As the ECJU is receiving fewer applications than normal, no delays are expected in processing export licencing applications at this time. So far, the ECJU has published four notices to exporters which represent the totality of their guidance on COVID-19. These notices relate to: export control training courses, export licence handling, updated guidance on compliance visits, and processing licence applications.
Further, the ECJU has put a number of interim arrangements in place to mitigate against the effects of COVID-19 on procedure. These include:
- increasing the response time for requests for information (RFIs) from 20 to 40 working days;
- acceptance of digital and electronic signatures in place of wet signatures;
- electronic versions of user/stockist undertakings will be accepted;
- for dual-use goods in another Member State, the ECJU will no longer be sending a hard copy of the licence presentation, but instead will be sending an electronic version;
- for those exporting firearms, unlocked word versions of the EC3 and EC4 forms are available online for users to fill out and upload onto SPIRE;
- compliance visits will continue remotely (if a business is closed due to COVID-19, users should let their compliance officer know as soon as possible);
- Ministry of Defence (MOD) authorisations are being processed with some delay – in light of this compliance officers will accept evidence of an application for a MOD authorisation letter if this was made prior to the date of shipment; and
- training courses will resume in the near future and will be delivered online.
2. Regulatory Changes in Response to COVID-19 in the UK
So far the UK government has launched three main initiatives in response to COVID-19.
Restrictions on parallel export and hoarding of some medicines
The relevant legislation was launched by the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of medicines for NHS hospitals treating coronavirus patients. The list of applicable medicines is updated frequently and businesses can find further guidance here.
No import duty and VAT on medical supplies, equipment and PPE
HMRC announced that this tax relief will apply to any person importing protective equipment, other relevant medical devices or equipment for the coronavirus outbreak set out in the COVID-19 Commodity Code List. The goods must be imported by or on behalf of an UK based organisation that are: organisations governed by public law or other charitable organisations approved by the competent authorities. Further guidance can be found here.
PPE export control process
The government has announced temporary measures for anyone wishing to export PPE outside the EU/EFTA member states, and certain other territories. Exporters of these items will temporarily need a PPE export licence. Further guidance, including how to apply for a licence, can be found here.
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