Tribunal Decision of Importer/Agent Liability for Customs Error

03 July 2012

GB Seed Ltd imported millet which benefitted under a duty suspension. That suspension was removed by Regulation 1039/2008 but any shipments that were already en route to the EU could continue to benefit from 0% duty. The EU Regulation was published in the Official Journal.

GB Seed relied on its freight forwarder to make the necessary customs declarations on its behalf. This relationship operated for over 13 years but was not subject to a written contract.

The customs code allows for two types of representation by the agent:

  • Direct- the agent acts in the name of and on behalf of the importer and the importer is solely liable for the accuracy of the customs declaration and the customs debt
  • Indirect- the agent and the importer are jointly and severally liable

Most forwarders in the UK are members of BIFA and use standard written contracts stating they act as direct representatives. In this case the tribunal found the agent was acting as a direct agent because they stated so on the customs declarations. In our view this point should have been explored in more detail.

The tribunal also pointed out that GB Seed were deemed to be aware of the law and changes which had been made to the law as these were set out in the official journal. As the goods were not already en route to the UK they did not benefit from the transitional arrangements. The duty demand was valid.

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