Rules of origin for imported and exported goods

Rules to establish the country of origin of imported and exported goods and to help identify those which qualify for lower or nil customs duty.


The European Union (EU) has rules for establishing the country of origin of imported and exported goods. You will need them to classify goods manufactured in more than one country.

As a customs union the EU applies a common customs duty to goods imported from outside the EU. However, in practice, trade agreements between the EU and third countries, regional trade blocs and free trade areas determine the rate of duty and customs conditions. Some goods imported from or exported to certain countries will qualify for preferential treatment – for example, lower or nil customs duty, whereas others will have non-preferential status and attract full excise.

Defining the origin of goods

The rate of duty that must be paid on your goods will depend on 3 elements – the type of goods, the country the goods are being imported into and where they are judged to have ‘originated’ from. The first step is to clarify the origin of the goods.

The EU has trading agreements with certain non-EU countries and regional trading blocs or free trade areas. Once you have determined origin you will be on your way to classifying your goods and establishing whether an agreement is in place with the country or countries with which you wish to trade.

Where an agreement exists, you will need to check whether your goods qualify for any preferential treatment – for example, reduced or nil rate of duty, which that agreement might allow.

Defining the origin

There are 2 main categories of origin in the rules:

  • goods wholly obtained or produced in a single country
  • goods whose production involved materials from more than one country

This second category is the more complex as there are several criteria to consider – eg the origins of the materials, the country in which the final substantial production phase took place and the value the working and processing in each country has added.

If a product is manufactured entirely in the EU and is exported to a country with which there is a preferential arrangement it may attract lower or nil rates of duty when it is imported into the destination country.

If some of the components are manufactured in the EU but components are added and the product is assembled in another country it may be judged that the product originates from the country where it is assembled. The duty requirement will depend on the arrangements between the country in which the product was assembled and the country into which it will be imported.

Getting help

If you are importing goods you can contact the HMRC VAT helpline.

If you are exporting goods, you should check with your customer, the customs authorities in your customer’s country or the Department for International Trade (DIT) overseas trade division.

Tariff preferences

Once you have clarified the origin of the goods you’re exporting or importing, you can find out if they qualify for preferential treatment under a tariff preference scheme.

There are 2 types of scheme:

  • autonomous or non-reciprocal schemes are only for imports into the EUunder the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP)
  • reciprocal schemes applying to both imports to the EU and exports from it

Ultimately, any preferential rate of duty will depend on there being preferential coverage for goods of that type between the importing and exporting countries – or between the EU and a third country – and the product:

  • meeting its relevant rule of origin
  • being wholly produced in the preference country or substantially manufactured there according to particular rules
  • not being subject to a quota which would limit the quantity of the product that can be brought in under preference

Once you have established the origin of the goods you can check their customs classification which will show you if the goods qualify for a preference scheme. See classification of goods.

You can find an alphabetical list of all the countries that benefit from preferential treatment in Volume 1, Part 7 of the Tariff.

The UK Trade Tariff is the most up-to-date source of information on preferential agreements and the Commodity Code. It will also show if your product is liable to trade protection measures such as anti-dumping duties or Common Agricultural Policy charges which are often determined by the product’s origin.

If you’re an exporter check with your customers and the customs authorities in the customer’s market. You must also comply with general export procedures. For more information on these and how they apply to you see the guides on exporting your goods outside the EU and dispatching your goods within the EU.

If you’re an importer check with HMRC. It is the importer’s responsibility to ensure that the correct amount of duty is paid. You’ll be liable for any unpaid or incorrectly paid duty for up to 3 years after the product has been imported.

Proving goods of preferential origin

If the goods you’re exporting have preferential origin they are likely to attract reduced or nil rates of duty when they enter your customer’s country. As an exporter it is your responsibility to ensure that the rules of preferential origin have been followed correctly.

If you’re exporting you should check with the customs authorities in the country you are selling to and find out what preferences are available. You can also check with DIT.

If you’re importing goods of preferential origin you are likely to pay duty on the goods at a reduced or nil rate. However you must be sure that the paperwork has been correctly processed. You can be liable for unpaid or incorrectly paid duty for up to 3 years.

You’ll need to prove to HMRC that you are entitled to claim preference for the goods that are being exported or imported. The type of proof needed depends on the type of goods and the country to which they’re being exported.

In particular, you should check if the preference scheme is autonomous or reciprocal – that is, whether it applies to imports only or to both imports and exports. This will determine which type of certification you will require.

If you’re regularly exporting or importing you could consider applying for Binding Origin Information (BOI). This is a legally binding document from customs that clarifies the origin of your goods and can save time and money for regular exporters and importers. It is recognised and legally valid across the EU.

Binding Origin Information

BOI is a written decision by a customs authority that confirms the origin of specific goods. It is valid for 3 years and is legally recognised across the EU.

Advantages of holding BOI for exports and imports

BOI is legally binding across all EU member states so if your goods move within the EU before they reach their destination holding BOI can minimise the chance of local customs challenging the origin of the goods while in transit.

If the origin of your goods is not straightforward holding BOI can prevent you from having to prove the origin of the goods repeatedly during trading. If any change in EU law makes your BOI invalid you can still continue to fulfil existing contracts for up to 6 months.

You can hold a BOI whether you’re exporting or importing goods. However, only the owner of the BOI can use it. For example, if you hold a BOI for goods you export, your customers cannot use it unless they’ve obtained one themselves.

How to obtain BOI

You can apply to HMRC for BOI by using form C&E1900. There is no charge for issuing a BOI although you may have to pay any costs for specialist analysis of goods or expert advice if HMRC need it to make a decision. Find information about BOI in Notice 831.

Managing certification for preferential origin

Goods of preferential origin (attracting reduced or nil duty) must be certified before they leave the exporting country. Retrospective certificates can be issued under exceptional circumstances.

The certification needed depends on whether the preference scheme in the destination country is an autonomous one (applying to imports only) or reciprocal (applies to both imports and exports between the 2 countries).

Check with customs authorities in the goods’ destination country or the DIToverseas trade division.

It’s the exporter’s responsibility to ensure that all paperwork relating to each consignment of goods is accurate and authentic.

EU Korea Free Trade Agreement – Change of legal status of a Bill of Lading.

Under the provisions of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement the only acceptable proof of origin to claim preference is an origin declaration made out by the exporter. Article 15 of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement (Official Journal L127 14/5/2011) states:

“Products originating in the EU Party shall, on importation into Korea and products originating in Korea shall, on importation into the EU Party benefit from preferential tariff treatment of this Agreement on the basis of a declaration, subsequently referred to as the ‘origin declaration’, given by the exporter on an invoice, a delivery note or any other commercial document which describes the products concerned in sufficient detail to enable them to be identified”.

Change to the definition of a commercial document for the purpose of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

In normal English usage a bill of lading is considered a commercial document.

However at the third meeting of the Customs Committee of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement on 18 to 19 June 2014, the European Commission agreed with the Korean authorities that:

“…a bill of lading is not a commercial document for the purpose of origin declaration”.

There has been no explanation for this decision.

The effect of this decision is that from this date onwards a bill of lading cannot be used to make an origin declaration for the purpose of claiming preference under the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

HMRC guidance and public notices will be updated in due course.

Any queries on the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement should be emailed to:

Autonomous schemes

You must ensure the goods you want to import are covered by a GSP Form A. Read guidance on ensuring your form A is technically correct.

This is a certificate of preferential origin and must be stamped and signed by the customs authority in the exporting country. Each consignment of goods you import needs a separate certificate and each certificate is valid for 10 months from the date of issue.

From 1 January 2017 the EU introduced Registered Exporter System (REX). This is a system that authorises exporters in GSP beneficiary countries to issue a self-certificate (known as a statement on origin) for eligible goods to be imported under preference to the EU.

Reciprocal schemes

Most commonly, goods are covered by Form EUR1 provided by the exporter and stamped and signed by the customs authorities in the exporting country. Download guidance on creating and filling in a Form EUR1 from the London Chamber of Commerce website (PDF, 53K).

In most cases, each form or declaration must only be used for one consignment of goods and is valid for 4, 10, or 12 months from the date of issue, depending on the country to which the goods are being exported.

Alternatively, the exporter can use a legally approved form of words to declare on the invoice that the goods qualify for preferential origin status. There is a value limit on such exports – unless the exporter is approved by HMRC.

For both schemes, you still need to use classification codes on the customs paperwork that accompanies the shipment as they are also used to collate international trade statistics.

Help for regular exporters

If you are a regular exporter you can apply to HMRC to become an Approved Exporter. This entitles you to put the required preference declaration on the invoice and removes the requirement for a EUR1 Certificate. You can call the HMRC VAT helpline for further information.

You may be able to speed regular shipments of identical goods through customs by using BOI.

If you are taking your first steps as an importer or exporter be aware that you have to be registered as such. See Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) Scheme.

Non-preferential certification

European Union Certificates of Origin (non-preferential origin) are issued by local Chambers of Commerce which are authorised by DIT on recommendation by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). This service is available to all businesses in the UK. Exporters can also apply online for an e-Cert (an electronic Certificate of Origin) through the BCC website.


HMRC regularly monitors goods that are being imported or exported under preference.

You must keep all relevant paperwork for up to 3 years. If you cannot prove the origin of any goods you have exported under preference in the past 3 years your customer may have to pay the full rate of duty on them. In this case, the customer may expect you to repay the duty to them.

If you’re found to be exporting goods under preference incorrectly you could face penalties. See customs seizures and penalties.

Get help and advice on rules of origin

The practicalities of rules of origin can be complex and it’s a good idea to take expert advice to make sure that you are complying with them, whether you are an importer or an exporter.

Get advice from HMRC

HMRC can provide comprehensive guidance on preference schemes for importers and exporters. You can call the HMRC VAT helpline.

Find out more on EU preferences and their export procedures in Notice 827. Or read more in the guide on Trade preference agreements: import and export.

Guidance on exporting to specific countries

You can get help on exporting under preference from the DIT overseas trade division.

HMRC also offers guidance on the rules of origin for specific countries. You can, for example, read guidance on rules of origin for Mexico in Notice 832.

Find out about tariff preferences and rules of origin for countries including Egypt, Iceland, Morocco, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey in Notice 828.

Further information

Download rules of preferential origin handbook from the Europa website (PDF, 492KB).

Application of rules of origin guidance on the Europa website.

Published 6 August 2012
Last updated 19 April 2017 
Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *