Agriculture, horticulture and fisheries: international trade regulations
Import and export regulations for the agriculture, horticulture and fisheries industries and how to apply for relevant licences and permissions.
Export regulations in the UK agriculture, horticulture and fisheries sector
Regulations, charges or other restrictions may apply to agriculture, horticulture and fisheries exports as they leave the UK and when they arrive at their destination country. It is important that you research both sides of the transaction.
First, you need to classify your goods. Use of standardised classification codes makes it easier to check if any restrictions or charges apply. You can use the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff) to classify your goods. For more information, see the guide on classification of goods.
Remember that in general it is much simpler to trade with other EU countries than with countries outside the EU, because the goods are in free circulation. The EU is a single market and the UK is in a Customs Union, so you can trade with other EU countries without restriction (although some local charges may still apply).
Specific agriculture, horticulture and fisheries regulations
Some agricultural products, livestock, animal products and endangered plants or animals are regulated. You must also comply with general export procedures. For information on export licences, read the guide on Import and export licences for controlled goods.
For details of food and drink regulations, see the guides on the Food Standards Agency website.
Exporting goods for processing
You may be able to obtain relief from customs duties when you re-import EU goods that have previously been exported from the EU for processing. Outward Processing Relief (OPR) enables you to claim relief from customs duty if you can show that the exported goods were used in, or incorporated into, the products being imported.
Before you can claim duty relief under OPR however, you must have the appropriate authorisation. For more information, see the guide on outward processing relief.
Export regulations for animals, animal products, fish, plants and plant products
If you export agricultural or animal products, livestock or endangered plants or animals, you need to be aware of certain rules and procedures. Licences are compulsory for exporting certain products. If you don’t present a licence for the goods at the point of export, they cannot leave.
Products covered by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
You may need a licence to export products covered by CAP to countries outside the EU.
A system of refunds and levies helps to adjust EU prices of CAP goods to world-market levels. For example, if the EU price for a product is higher than the world price, you may be entitled to a refund. This allows you to export outside the EU at a competitive price.
CAP payments are made by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). There are different schemes for different types of products. Read details of external trade schemes.
You may also need to show compliance with non-related regulations in order to receive CAP export refunds.
Export licences for CAP goods are issued by the RPA and enforced by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Regulations change frequently. To check if your goods need a licence, call the RPA External Trade Helpline on 0191 226 5050.
Live animals and animal-based produce
If you export any kind of live animal or animal-based product, special rules apply. Most of your exports must have the correct health certificates to move through customs. You can download a list of all available Export Health Certificates from the Defra website.
Exports to non-EU countries are subject to export health conditions agreed between the UK and the destination country. Find information about health conditions on the Defra website.
Specific rules apply when you export horses. To read about passports, micro-chipping and animal health certificates for horses, see the section on horse passports and welfare in transportation, in the guide on horses on farms.
It’s likely that dispatches to EU countries will also require health certificates. Find out about health certificates for dispatches on the Defra website.
You can choose from two electronic systems to obtain health certificates. Export Online (EOL) is used to obtain health certificates for exports to third (non-EU) countries. Find out about EOL on the Defra website.
You’ll need to use the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) if you’re dispatching to another EU member state. See the guide on customs clearance for animals and animal products.
In addition, you are required to take prescribed steps only to transport animals in connection with an economic activity if they are fit enough to undertake the journey, and you are able to ensure their welfare during transport. If you transport livestock over 65 kilometres, you must hold a Transporter Authorisation and have completed appropriate training. So as not to forfeit any part of your CAP refunds, you should read the guide on live transport: welfare regulations.
Fish and EU fishery products
The import and export of fish and EU fishery products, whether being transported by sea, airfreight, rail or road, must meet the EU rules designed to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing which came into force on 1 January 2010. In terms of export, you must have a catch certificate for any fish or fishery products you:
- are exporting to a third country, eg for processing, with the intention of the products re-entering the EU
- export to a third country, as that country will require an EU catch certificate to accompany imports of fishery products
- land from a fishing vessel in a third country from which you intend to bring the fish into the EU
Fish caught before 2010, but imported after 1 January, do not require a catch certificate. If the exporting country concerned was approved after 1 January 2010 then only fish caught after the approval date can be imported. No retrospective certification is allowed.
Customs declarations Single Administrative Document (SAD) requirements
You must enter codes in box 44 of your SAD declarations of fish and fish products at export or import if they fall within the scope of the IUU Fishing Regulations as follows:
- if you have an IUU catch certificate, enter document code C673 in box 44 and the catch certificate number(s)
- if the goods do not require an IUU catch certificate, enter document code Y927 in box 44
Plants, fruit and vegetables
Most plants can be freely transported within the EU, although plants which are seriously susceptible to ‘quarantine’ pests or diseases may require a ‘plant passport’. Countries outside the EU may require plant health certification (a phytosanitary certificate). Read about plant exports on the Food Environment and Research Agency (Fera) website.
No export licences are required for dispatches of fresh fruit and vegetables within the EU. You may need a licence or a phytosanitary certificate to export to third countries. When exporting fruit and vegetables, you may have to comply with local regulations - for example, on:
- phytosanitary health
Fruit and vegetables as a foodstuff are also subject to health and consumer protection regulations. For more information on food and drink regulations, see the guides on the FSA website.
Exports of endangered plants or animals are controlled and licences are required. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments that came into force in 1975. Read CITES guidance on the Animal Health website..
For information on food and hygiene regulations when exporting to the United States, see the guides on food and drink on the FSA website.
Researching your export destination in the agriculture, horticulture and fisheries sector
You should thoroughly research your export destination country when planning to export.
There are a number of issues that you ought to consider. As a starting point you may wish to:
- seek advice from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) - find your local international trade team on the UK Trade & Investment website
- contact trade associations - see the section in this guide on sources of help and support
- use online databases - you can search by destination country and category of goods on the EU Market Access Database website
- seek overseas market research advice on the British Chambers of Commerce website
You can also use the Market Access Database to find out if your goods are affected by restrictions and charges at their destination country, together with all applicable duties and taxes. Key things to check include:
- prohibitions or quotas on your products
- import licensing restrictions
- rates of duty payable when your goods enter your export market
You should also consider product safety and other technical standards in your export market. Your goods may need to be adapted to comply with these. Rules in your export market may be less or more strict than in the UK.
Tariffs and duties
All businesses in this sector must comply with a range of import-specific regulations. The key issues relate to the Tariff, preferential duty rates and Intrastat.
Using the Integrated Tariff
A common customs tariff is applied across all EU countries on goods imported from outside the EU. Details of specific tariff duties and measures are contained in the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff).
The Tariff is used to determine the specific classification code of your goods and to confirm:
- any licensing requirements that apply
- the rates of duty and import VAT that apply
- any additional charges, such as anti-dumping duties
- any available preferential duty rates
Preferential duty rates
The European Community (EC) has a number of trade agreements with third countries, as a result of which goods may attract preferential duty rates. For more information, see the guides on rules of origin for imported and exported goods and trade preference agreements: import and export.
If you are VAT registered and the goods you acquire from or supply to VAT-registered businesses in other EU countries reach the Intrastat exemption threshold for the year, you must submit monthly supplementary declarations to HMRC. The thresholds are £600,000 for Arrivals and £250,000 for Dispatches.
Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states. See the guide on Intrastat - reporting the value and volume of intra-EU trade . Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders.
Imports from outside the EU may be subject to import duty, depending on the type of goods and their origin. For CAP goods, import tariffs can vary at different times of the year or depend on their price. For more information, see the guides on preparing to trade in CAP goods and importing CAP goods.
As the EU is a Customs Union, you can buy most goods from other member countries without restrictions, although VAT and excise duty can still apply. For more information, see the guide on trading in the European Union.
If you import from outside the EU, you may have to comply with import licensing requirements and with common customs tariffs that apply across the EU. See the guide on imports from outside the EU.
Under EU regulations on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH), if you manufacture, import or use over one tonne of a chemical substance per year you must register with the European Chemicals Agency. Read about REACH legislation on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.
Import restrictions can be product-specific or trade-specific. Many products are subject to product-specific standards and need to be supported by applicable certificates, product-specific licences and documentation.
Restrictions or limitations on the quantity of some imports mean that you may have to pay anti-dumping duties on your goods. For more information, see the guide on anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
You can check the Tariff to see if your goods will be subject to these and other licences. The Tariff is a customs document which shows commodity codes, licences, duties, taxes and other measures to classify all goods for import and export.
Plants that are seriously susceptible to damage from pests or disease may require a ‘plant passport’ to move within the EU. Plants and some plant products imported from outside the EU will require a phytosanitary certificate. See the guide on plant health controls.
Third country hops imported into the EU require an Attestation of Equivalence at import. This certificate is issued by the appropriate agency in the country of origin and must be presented with other entry documents to HMRC for customs clearance. Imports of CAP goods from outside the EU may require a CAP import licence, or be covered by a tariff rate quota, depending on their origin. Tariff rate quotas allow your goods to qualify for preferential duty rates. Imports outside the quota are charged higher rates of duty. Find information on external trade schemes.
Goods imported to the UK must comply with domestic business standards, including those relating to:
- animal and plant health protection
- levies on cereals and oilseeds
- organic produce
- food labelling
- pesticide residues
- plant health
- use of fertilisers
- beef labelling
- labelling of and additives to animal feed
Import packaging regulations
Consignments in wood packaging may also need a phytosanitary certificate. Regulated by the Forestry Commission, this proves the wood has been properly treated to prevent pest infestation and disease to international standard ISPM15. Check if your packaging meets the regulations by calling the Forestry Commission Plant Health Enquiry Line on 0131 314 6414.
There are also health requirements affecting materials and articles that come into contact with food. This is to prevent food becoming contaminated by substances within the packaging or other items with which it comes into contact.
Food and drink
If you import animals, fish, plants or vegetables, you must comply with certain rules. See the section in this guide on import regulations for animals, animal products, fish, feed, plants and organic produce. For information on other products intended for human consumption, see the guide on food and drink imports on the HSA website.
Import regulations for animals, animal products, fish, feed, plants and organic produce
If you import animals, animal products, fish, feed, plants or organic produce, you need to be aware of certain rules and procedures.
Live animals, animal products and fish
Imports of animals (including fish and shellfish) and animal products must be notified in advance to a Border Inspection Post (BIP), and accompanied by health certification. To protect public and animal health in the UK, it is important that you comply with the import rules. View a list of BIPs on the Defra website.
The rules specify that these goods must:
- be imported into the EU through a BIP (a designated inspection point operated by Animal Health, local authority or Port Health Authority (PHA))
- be accompanied by a health certificate, obtained from the specified veterinary authority in the country of origin
- be pre-notified to the BIP before arrival using a Common Veterinary Entry Document
- pass an examination at the BIP to confirm they conform to the certified standards - a fee is payable to the BIP for this
The Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) is a web-based system run by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection to make the paperwork for trading in animals and animal products easier. For imported goods and live animals, the system allows traders to obtain health certificates and movement notifications of dispatches. See the guide on customs clearance for animals and animal products.
All cattle born in or imported into Great Britain since 1 July 1996 must have a cattle passport for life. They are issued by The British Cattle Movement Service, part of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), and are used to trace the movement of cattle, both within Great Britain and internationally. Read about cattle passports.
Animal-products legislation covers products that may have been in contact with animals, eg hay and straw.
Fish and EU fishery products
The import and export of fish and EU fishery products (whether being transported by sea, airfreight, rail or road), must meet requirements to prevent the movement of illegal marine fish and fishery products. In terms of import, you must have a validated catch certificate for any fish or fishery products you import. You can download guidance on weights and product codes to include in catch certificates on the National Archive website. (PDF, 199KB)
If you are importing from a third country, you should check with your supplier and verify on the European Commission website that the country is included in the list of those which have approved authorities to validate catch certificates.
The requirement applies only to catches made from 1 January 2010. This means that fish caught prior to 2010, but imported after 1 January, do not require a catch certificate. For information on the export requirements, see the section in this guide on export regulations for animals, animal products, fish, plants and plant products.
In addition to the catch certificate, HMRC’s National Clearance Hub requires authorisation for release by the relevant Port Health or local authority to confirm that IUU checks have been satisfactorily completed before Customs clearance can be granted. This applies to all import consignments of fish and fish products arriving by all modes of transport and at all points of entry in the UK.
You, your agent or the clearing authority at the point of entry must submit evidence of customs clearance by fax, email or a generated message, according to the procedures in place at that point of entry.
You must also use specific codes when completing box 44 of the SAD Customs declaration. You can find the codes on the section in this guide on export regulations for animals, animal products, fish, plants and plant products.
Approved Economic Operators (APEO) scheme
The APEO scheme was set up for businesses involved in the import of fish and fish products. To qualify for APEO status, you must first hold a general Customs Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) certificate. For more information on how to apply for an AEO certificate, see the guide on Authorised Economic Operator certification.
If you are granted APEO status, you will benefit from quicker clearance of your goods as although you will still be required to hold catch certificates, you will not be required to present them at import.
Feed manufacturers and suppliers must declare all ingredients in animal feed according to their percentage by weight within 15%. Compound feed imported from third (non-EU) countries must also comply with these requirements. Read about animal feed regulations on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.
Most plants and plant material can be freely transported within the EU, although high-risk goods may require a ‘plant passport’. Imports of many plants and plant products from outside the EU may require a phytosanitary (plant health) certificate, and the issuing of a quarantine release certificate before their release into free circulation. Download an information sheet on trading in plants from the FSA website. (PDF, 40KB).
Most organic produce imported into the UK from another EU or EEA country or Switzerland should be produced by a supplier registered with an Organic Certification Body approved to operate by that country. You must be registered with an approved UK Organic Certification Body to import organic products from third countries or to produce or process and usually to trade in or store such produce.
Organic products from ‘equivalent countries’ - ie Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and Tunisia - may enter the EU without authorisation from Defra. You should note that some equivalence agreements don’t cover all areas of agriculture or processed products. You may want to contact Defra before importing from these countries.
Imports from all other third countries need prior authorisation from Defra. An application made by an importer to Defra for import authorisation must clearly demonstrate that standards equivalent to the standard applied by EC Law (Council Regulation 834/2007 and Commission Regulation 889/2008) have been applied at all stages.
Produce imported from third countries must always have a Certificate of Inspection, provided by the inspection/certification body of the third country. This must be presented at the place of import - either to the relevant PHA or Local Authority (LA) when your goods arrive at a UK port or exceptionally at another place from which you seek release for free circulation in the Community. The PHA or LA will in turn check this document against a secure database of all import authorisations Defra has issued. For queries, call the Defra Organic Team Import Section on 020 7238 5777.
For more information, see the guide on importing organic products.
In addition to standard import requirements, some foods, eg meat, poultry, game, milk, eggs, fish and those containing animal products, are subject to additional regulations on certification and/or labelling - see the guide to food and drink on the Food Standards Agency website.. Imports of raw material or processed food usually require a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) licence.
Imports of endangered plants or animals are controlled, and licences are required. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments that came into force in 1975. Read CITES guidance on the Animal Health website.
Prohibited imports into and trade within the EU
There is a ban on the placing on the market of any type of product made from seals and other pinnipeds - ie sea-lions and walruses. For more information, including the very limited exceptions to the ban, see the guide on importing animal furs and skins; export of fish.
For information on genetically modified and novel foods, see the guide to food and drink on the Food Standards Agency website.
Sources of help and support
As an importer or exporter in the agriculture, horticulture and fisheries sector, you can turn to a range of organisations for help and information.
The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support is UK Trade & Investment. You can find information on your sector to exporters on the UKTI website.
Government sources of help and information
In addition to UKTI, other government bodies that provide business support in the agriculture, horticulture and fisheries sector include:
- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - find information on regulations and support services on the Defra website.
- The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) - find information on the Single Payment Scheme and other services on the RPA website.
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) - you can find information about importing and exporting on the HMRC website.
- Food Standards Agency (FSA) - offers help and advice about importing food products and products with special conditions, eg spices, nuts, fish and shellfish. Find information on importing food on the FSA website.
- Plant Health - download details of how to contact Plant Health inspectors from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) website.
Agriculture, horticulture and fisheries trade associations and other bodies
Trade associations and other support organisations for the sector include:
- the Commercial Horticultural Association (CHA) - read about CHA services on their website
- the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA) - read about the AEA and their services on their website
- the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) - find out how to obtain funding from the BBSRC on their website
- the Sea Fish Industries Authority (SFIA) - find out about the sea-fishing industry on the SFIA website
UK Trade & Investment Enquiry Line
020 7215 8000
HMRC Tariff Classification Service Enquiry Line
01702 366 077
08459 33 55 77
0845 603 7777
Defra Organic Team Import Section
020 7238 5777
Food Standards Agency Helpline
020 7276 8829
RPA External Trade Helpline
0191 226 5050