Cut the red tape: 8 surprising customs rules

From exporting edible insects to baby formula, Harald Schoenfelder, Managing Director Global Trade Services at FedEx Express (Europe, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent & Africa), reveals little-known customs rules that could easily catch you off guard…

red tapeAs an SME, navigating the shipping market can be a daunting task. With so many rules and regulations to abide by, it can seem like a never-ending list. But help is now at hand!

We decided to compile some of the most unusual and surprising rules and scenarios that exist across the shipping market. These go to show just how varied – and sometimes unexpected – countries’ customs regulations can be. However, don’t let them deter you from selling your products overseas. As long as you’ve done your homework, and reading our guide is part of it, you are on your way to exporting success.

We understand that as an SME, your time is precious. So this handy guide will help you get to grips with a selection of the dos and don’ts when exporting overseas. We’ve also covered exporting to international markets, as intra-European shipping is usually a stepping stone to going global.

Walk before you can fly

A key piece of advice when exporting is always do your research – failing to prepare is preparing to fail. By gathering practical information before you even consider shipping in Europe and beyond, you can avoid any potential faux-pas when getting your product to market.

As customs procedures are in constant flux and each product has different rules associated with it, the European Commission’s market access database is a good starting point.

We appreciate that it can be tricky to get to grips with each and every export rule, so you’ll need to plan on a country-by-country basis, and source a trusted resource. Our selection of unexpected regulations below will give you a flavour of the kind of rules that are out there:

  • Edible insects are trending – but imports of such insects are not yet allowed in all EU countries due to variations in food safety rules. Belgium approved 10 insects for human consumption in 2014, and in November the first insect meat offers were available in supermarkets and restaurants.
  • Amateur sports in France are becoming increasingly regulated compared to other European countries. France is no longer allowing the import of creatine, a product that helps with the building up of muscles. The French will have to train a bit harder and longer to get in the same shape as their Spanish neighbours.
  • As the sixth biggest wine-consuming country in the world, you might be forgiven for thinking that it would be easy to export wine from other EU member states to the UK. But that’s not the case. When shipping alcohol from an EU member state to a private individual in the UK, there are strict rules that apply. The vendor must pay excise duty to the UK authorities. The UK does not allow the consumer to pay this duty, and insists on confiscating goods where the specified procedure has not been followed.
  • There’s no use crying over spilt milk, but if you’re a mother-and-baby retailer, exporting milk to China is not child’s play. While you can ship baby formula to private persons in China, the quantity is limited to six cans (each can max 900 gram) for personal use. To do this, you must register as an exporter with the Chinese authorities. Other parties such as the manufacturer have to be registered and obtain approval from the Chinese government as well. In addition, approval by China Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) is required for all other dairy products and is now mandatory for Chinese market access.
  • Rules and regulations change all of the time. So even if you’ve exported to a country once, do not assume the rules will remain the same six months later. For instance, did you know that you cannot import honey from South Africa into EU member countries?
  • Not all products are what they seem. For instance, one of our customers wanted to ship rubber fingers from France to the US. But as they were to be used as part of poultry feather removal machinery, they were not classified as glove parts. The correct customs classification was ‘machinery for the preparation of meat or poultry’.
  • Here’s another rule to chew over: shipping chewing gum into Singapore is prohibited, although exceptions are made for dental hygiene and medicinal purposes under license.
  • Don’t become unstuck – or unzipped – if you’re looking to send zip fasteners to India. You’ll be required to state the length, teeth material and colour of the zips when exporting to the country.

These rules may seem a little unusual, but if you do your research and find the right customs experts, you are less likely to be taken by surprise.

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