Chemicals: international trade regulations

Guidance for importers and exporters on which chemicals are controlled and how to comply with regulations on hazardous substances.

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This guide provides an overview of the chemicals sector, the key regulations that exporters or importers must comply with, and selected sources of further help and support.

The guide also includes information on dangerous, banned or restricted chemicals, their registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction (REACH), and their disposal under waste regulations. 

It provides information on how to research the destination countries you plan to export to and how to comply with regulations on hazard information, safety data sheets and dangerous goods notes.

Export regulations in the chemicals sector

Regulations, charges or other restrictions may apply to chemicals 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.

For more information, see Exporting goods outside the EU.

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.

If you are already familiar with the Tariff, you can find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the free online UK Trade Tariff. If you are new to the Tariff, see the section on classification rules and using the tariff.

Generally, it’s 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 and licensing requirements may still apply.

For information on sector-specific export rules and procedures, see the sections on Export regulations for dangerous, banned and restricted chemicals and Classifying, packaging and labelling requirements for chemicals. You can also read about the rules for transporting hazardous products in the guide to moving dangerous goods.

Export licensing and certification

An export licence is required to export specific goods with military or potential military uses. To find out more about strategic export controls, see the guide about export controls: an introductory guide.

Watch a video about your export control responsibilities and how you can ensure you have the correct licences.

Responsible exports.

An export licence issued by the Home Office is required for precursor chemicals. Exports to some markets may require a Certificate of Free Sale, which states that the goods can be lawfully sold in the UK if they meet the relevant statutory requirements. For chemicals and detergents, this can be obtained from the Import Licensing Branch of BIS. You can call their helpline on 01642 364 333 or email them at

Exports are permitted for ozone-depleting chemicals (ODS), subject to an export authorisation issued by the European Commission. You can also find out how to apply to export ODS on the Europa website.

For information on export licences, read our guide on import and export licences.

Exporting goods for processing

You may be able to obtain customs duty relief when re-importing EU goods previously 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 are incorporated into, the products being imported. Before you can claim duty relief under OPR, however, you must have the appropriate authorisation. Read HMRC Notice 235 on OPR. and see our guide on customs procedures

Export regulations for dangerous, banned and restricted chemicals

If you export dangerous, banned or restricted chemicals, be aware of specific rules and procedures.

Safety data sheets

If you produce or trade in dangerous chemicals you must provide accurate safety data sheets with all consignments, detailing the hazards posed. When sending chemicals to others for the first time you must also provide safety data sheets containing enough information to ensure the chemicals are used safely. If the sheet is updated you must send a copy to recipients of the chemical within the last year.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that the sheet is accurate.

Safety data sheets are not needed when:

  • medicines and cosmetics are covered by other legislation and have different rules for packaging and labelling
  • you’re a retailer and you’re supplying goods to the general public

Safety data sheets are covered by the European Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation, as amended, and not as previously by CHIP 4 regulations. You can download the REACH information leaflet on safety data sheets from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website (PDF, 169KB).

In addition, safety data sheets for substances must be revised so as to include classification and labelling information. For more information on the REACH amendments, you can download Commission Regulation (EU) No 453/2010 from the Europa website (PDF, 1.07MB). Safety data sheets for mixtures will only have to undergo parallel change as of 1 June 2015. However, you can introduce the changes now if you prefer to do so.

You can also find the latest REACH news and resources or subscribe to updates on the HSE website.

The Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation (CLP) implementing Directive (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, adopts the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of chemicals in the EU. It will take over some of the provisions of REACH and gradually replace the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009. For more information on CLP, see the page in this guide on classifying, packaging and labelling requirements for chemicals.

Dangerous goods notes

When dangerous goods such as hazardous chemicals are transported, the consignment must be accompanied by a dangerous goods note. See the guide on moving dangerous goods.

Banned or restricted chemicals

Under the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) system, if you export certain banned or restricted chemicals, you must provide:

  • notification to HSE at least 30 days prior to export of all chemicals listed in Annex 1 to Regulation (EC) No 689/2008, which listings were amended in late January 2010 by Commission Regulation (EU) No 15/2010
  • assurances that chemicals are exported at least 6 months before their expiry date
  • packaging and labelling to EU standards, whether you’re importing within the EU or beyond

Find a list of chemicals subject to Regulation (EC) No 689/2008 at the European Database of Export and Import of Dangerous Chemicals or you can download Commission Regulation (EU) No. 15/2010 from the Europa website.

HSE sends the information to the European Commission, which allocates a unique reference number to the chemical you have exported. HSE then sends you a confirmation by fax, which must be included in documents for all subsequent exports of that chemical during the calendar year.

Exports are permitted for ozone-depleting chemicals (ODS) subject to an export authorisation issued by the European Commission. You can also find out how to apply to export ODS on the Europa website.

Certain chemicals with potential military applications may be defined as dual-use goods and subject to licensing, restrictions or banning controls. For more information, see the guide on the Export Control Organisation.

There are regulations relating to dual use chemicals which are covered by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Schedules of Chemicals.

Read guidance on how to comply with CWC regulations.

Classifying, packaging and labelling requirements for chemicals

When exporting, you must package and label chemicals as you would for supply within the EU. However, the labels should preferably be in the language of the importing country. You must also comply with any other requirements specified by the importing country.

For chemicals, the general principles of classification and labelling for supply are explained by the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009 (CHIP) and the Classifying, Labelling and Packaging Regulation. Read a copy of the HSE Approved Classification and Labelling Guide. However, CHIP is in the process of being phased out.

If, under the REACH regulations you manufacture or import more than 1 tonne of a chemical substance per year, you must register it with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) (unless it was pre-registered before 1 December 2008).

This relates to chemicals on their own, in a preparation (mixture) of substances, or in an article (manufactured goods) from which it is intended to be released.

If you fail to register, you will not be allowed to manufacture or import the substance concerned.

HSE is the UK REACH Competent Authority. You can find out about REACH on the HSE website.

The Classifying, Labelling and Packaging Regulation

The CLP applies directly in all EU member states. It is changing requirements for manufacturers and importers of chemicals who must classify and label chemicals according to their health, physical and environmental hazards, based on the United Nations (UN)-agreed Globally Harmonised System.

The Regulation introduces new classification criteria for hazardous substances and mixtures, ie substances and mixtures subject to REACH, together with changed hazard pictograms and hazard and precautionary statements for labels. 

The following substances must be notified to the Classification and Labelling (C&L) Inventory of European Chemicals Agency (ECHA):

Substances which are subject to registration under REACH (≥ 1 tonne/year) and placed on the market. This will include substances on their own, substances contained in mixtures and certain substances contained in articles where REACH Article 7 provides for their registration. Notification of these substances is not necessary where a manufacturer, importer or only representative has already registered the substance with the classification and labelling according to CLP when its notification in line with CLP Article 40(1) is due.

Substances classified as hazardous under CLP and placed on the market irrespective of the tonnage. This includes substances which are classified as hazardous under CLP, but which are exempted from registration, eg polymers referred to in REACH Article 6(3).

Substances classified as hazardous under CLP and present in a mixture above the concentration limits specified in Annex I of CLP or as specified in Directive 1999/45/EC, where relevant, which results in the classification of the mixture as hazardous, and where the mixture is placed on the market.

You can download guidance how to notify substances in the Classification and Labelling Inventory from the ECHA website.

Any substances placed on the market on 1 December 2010 must be notified on or before 3 January 2011 to the Classification and Labelling (C&L) Inventory of ECHA. However, not all manufacturers need to themselves register substances. Any business with a pre-registered substance under REACH, must belong to a Substance Information Exchange Forum (SIEF) comprising members with the same substance pre-registered. Note that the UK REACH Competent Authority is not involved in the operation of SIEFs. You can find more information on SIEFs on the ECHA website.

You must use CLP to classify, label and package substances, including chemical elements such as arsenic or compounds such as acetone. CLP became mandatory on 1 December 2010 for substances and on 1 June 2015 for mixtures, but suppliers may classify and label according to the new system straight away.

CLP applies to you if you manufacture, import, use or distribute chemical substances or mixtures. You must classify, label and package any substance or mixture, regardless of its annual tonnage, in accordance with the CLP Regulation before you place it on the EU market. Placing on the market of a substance or mixture means making it physically available to third parties, whether in return for payment or free of charge.

If you are a manufacturer or importer, you are required under CLP to classify substances that are subject to registration or to notification in line with Article 7 or 9 of REACH, even if you do not place them on the market. This includes, for example, the classification of substances that are used for product and process-orientated research and development (PPORD).

If you are a manufacturer or importer you must notify hazardous substances that you place on the market on their own or contained in hazardous mixtures above certain applicable concentration limits, regardless of the annual tonnage manufactured or imported, as well as substances subject to registration under REACH and that you place on the market, to the Classification and Labelling Inventory established at the Agency.

If any of the above applies to your business, you can find guidance on the CLP Regulation on the HSE website or read about your wider C&L and CLP duties and how they fit in with REACH on the ECHA website.

You can read about the Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures on the Europa website.

Find out about the Globally Harmonised System on the HSE website.

For more information about labelling and packaging requirements for chemicals see the guide on moving dangerous goods.

Researching your export destination in the chemicals 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 UKTI. Find your local international trade team on the UKTI website. There’s also a UKTI National Chemical Sector base at Wilton, near Middlesbrough.

As well as considering the business pros and cons when you research a potential export destination, you will need to check whether: 

  • your goods are affected by restrictions and/or licensing requirements
  • duties and/or taxes will be charged in the destination country
  • there any bans or quotas in place for your type of product

There are various ways you can research a potential export destination:

  • find country listings including trade relations status and economic forecasts on GOV.UK 
  • trade associations can also offer help - see the page in this guide on sources of help and support in the chemicals sector

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 standards. Rules in your export market may be less or more strict than in the UK.

You can also ask for information about your export destination country from a range of organisations, including:

  • your local UKTI trade team
  • your UKTI team within the commercial section of the UK embassy in your destination country
  • chemicals sector trade associations
  • the Chambers of Commerce in the UK and in your destination country

UKTI is a government organisation that supports UK businesses trading internationally and overseas enterprises seeking to set up or expand in the UK. UKTI has an impartial global presence in countries throughout the world and helps businesses realise their international potential through knowledge transfer and ongoing partnership support.

Tariffs and duties in the chemicals sector

All businesses in this sector must comply with a range of import- and/or export-specific regulations. The key issues relate to the Tariff, duties and Intrastat. Also see the page in this guide on import regulations in the chemicals sector.

Using the Integrated Tariff

A common customs tariff is applied across all EU countries on goods imported from outside the EU.

You can use the Tariff to determine the specific classification code of your goods and to find:

  • 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

If you are new to the Tariff, see the section on classification rules and using the tariff.

Preferential duty rates

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows originating products from a wide range of countries to be imported into the EU at a reduced or zero duty rate. You can find more information on the page on Generalised System of Preferences and GSP+. 

For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one, read Notice 830 - Tariff Preference: New GSP rules of origin.

The European Community (EC) has a number of other trade agreements with third countries and regional trading blocs, as a result of which goods may attract preferential rates of duty. You can find more information in the guide on rules of origin.


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 our guide to Intrastat. Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders.

Import regulations in the chemicals sector

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. You can also see the page about VAT on goods from EU countries in the guide on imports and purchases from abroad: paying and reclaiming VAT..

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. For more information, see our guide on importing your goods from outside the European Union.

Import licences and restrictions

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.

If you wish to import any of the 12 category 1 drug precursor chemicals you must be licensed by the Home Office. This category includes raw opium, coca leaves, crude drugs and preparations.

To apply for an import or export licence for a specific consignment of controlled drugs, you will need to hold a domestic licence for that type of drug, complete the appropriate application form, and email it as a Word attachment to

If your company holds a blanket export licence, you must complete an export declaration form immediately following each shipment.

You can find import and export licence application information on the Home Office website.

Quite separately, quantitative restrictions or limitations and anti-dumping duties may apply to certain imported commodities. For more information, see the guide on anti-dumping and countervailing duties. You can check the Tariff to see if an import licence is required.

Use the Tariff for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply.

Alcohol and excise duties

Excise duties are payable on alcohols imported from outside the EU. However, spirits that have been made unsuitable for human consumption by the addition of denaturants can qualify for relief. The goods should be entered on the Single Administrative Document (SAD), form C88. For more information, see the page on using the Single Administrative Document for imports and exports. To find out about classification of goods, see the guide on classification of goods.

Goods imported to the UK must comply with domestic business standards. Find out how to comply with all the regulations and licences that apply to the chemicals area in your business sector.

Ozone-depleting chemicals

You should be aware of regulations relating to ozone-depleting chemicals. You cannot import any such chemicals without a licence from the European Commission.

Certain chemicals with potential military applications may be defined as dual-use goods and subject to licensing, restrictions or banning controls.

Food colouring regulations

The import of food colourants is also subject to regulation. See Chemicals in food: safety controls.

Sources of help and support in the chemicals sector

As an importer or exporter in the chemicals sector, you can turn to a range of bodies for help and information.

The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support is UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).

Government sources of help and information

In addition to UKTI, government bodies that provide business support in the chemicals sector include:

Chemicals sector trade associations and other bodies

The following European and UK organisations are likely to be of interest:

ECHA centralises the regulations for and promotion of the safe use of chemicals. Find out about the ECHA on their website.

The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) is one of a number of chemical sector trade associations representing chemical and pharmaceutical businesses throughout the UK. CIA represents chemical and pharmaceutical businesses of all sizes. Find out about the CIA on their website.

Further information

HMRC Tariff Classification Service enquiry line

01702 366 077

UKTI enquiry line

020 7215 8000

Import and export guidance on the HMRC website

Export restriction checker on the BIS Goods Checker website (registration required)

REACH news and resources or subscribe to REACH electronic updates on the HSE website

Download the REACH information leaflet on safety data sheets from the HSE website

Banned and restricted chemicals list on the ECB website

CLP Regulation guidance on the HSE website

Order an approved classification and labelling guide from the HSE website

Download Introductory guidance to CLP on the ECHA website (PDF, 1.12MB)

C&L and CLP duties and how they fit in with REACH explained on the ECHA website

Order an approved classification and labelling guide from the HSE website

Notice 60 goods classification guidance on the HMRC website

Country and category of goods searchable database on the Market Access Database website

Single Administrative Document form on the HMRC website

Controlled drugs import and export licence application forms on the Home Office Drugs Licensing website

Published 23 July 2012
Last updated 30 May 2013 + show all updates
  1. Updated Chemical Weapons Convention guidance link

  2. First published.