Every day importers and customs brokers import thousands of goods into the European Union from so-called third countries. Goods imported from outside the European Union must be "cleared" in order for the goods to enter the free movement of goods. This means that you as an importer have to pay, among others, import duties on the imported goods. Thus, at the time the customs declaration is accepted by Customs, a customs debt of import duties arises. You will then receive an "invitation to pay" (In Dutch: 'Uitnodiging tot betaling', hereinafter: 'UTB') from Customs.
UTB upon declaration
So the customs debt arises when the customs declaration is accepted. In that case Customs has determined which commodity code (HS code / CN code / Taric code), origin and customs value apply to the imported goods. Indeed, based on this information, the customs debt is determined.
UTB after control (CNI control)
However, it also happens regularly that Customs (during a subsequent inspection) is of the opinion that, for example, an incorrect commodity code (HS code / CN code / TARIC code), has been used for the imported goods. Often this will entail that, in Customs' view, too little import duty has been paid as a result. In that case, the importer will also receive a UTB. Only then it concerns an additional assessment.
If Customs is of the opinion that a different goods code should be used, this is called a "classification dispute". Usually, the importer will not agree with Customs' view and feels that the additional assessment by means of the UTB is unjustly imposed. A common argument then is "but we have been importing the goods under this commodity code for years". An argument that generally does not stand up. In fact, an argument that often only will be used against you and consequently Customs will audit more past declarations.
Subject to certain exceptions, before imposing a UTB in the context of a post-clearance assessment, Customs is required to first notify the importer of the "intention to impose the UTB." The importer should then already be given the opportunity to present its views against the intended view of Customs. An "informal" objection, let's say.
An opportunity that you - in consultation with a customs lawyer - should certainly take advantage of. In my practice I regularly see that a (lengthy) objection and appeal phase can be avoided by defending against the intention to impose a UTB at an early stage by means of a (written) opinion.
Objection and appeal
What now if the importer has definitively received the additional tax claim in the form of a UTB? The importer then has the opportunity to submit an objection with Customs itself within six weeks. The objection will then be handled by someone other than the person who made the original decision at Customs.
Is your objection rejected? Then there remains the possibility of starting an objection proceeding at the court, after which appeal and (the latest) appeal at the Supreme Court are also possible.
Are you an importer or customs agent and have you received a UTB? Would you like to submit an written view, objection or appeal? Feel free to contact one of our attorneys, for example John Wolfs or Lars Kroese.