Producing and distributing food – guidance

Import and export plants and fresh produce

When importing plants or fresh fruit and veg from outside the EU into the UK for commercial use, there are certain steps you must take.

To import or export fresh fruit and vegetables from or to countries outside the EU, you need to:

  • use the Trade Tariff tool to:

    • find the reference number known as the TARIC code for the specific product (eg ‘fresh clementines’ or ‘fresh strawberries’)
    • see what taxes you need to pay and procedures you need to follow for the product (eg some goods need certificates to show they comply with rules on plant health and product quality)
  • register with CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import/Export Freight), HMRC’s online system for processing imports and exports
  • follow any other rules that apply to the product, eg:

    • safety considerations
    • organic standards
    • restrictions on importing from certain countries of origin

To import or export produce covered by plant health regulations and/or the EU’s marketing standards you will also need to register with PEACH (Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates). The PEACH system allows you to:

  • pre-notify the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate (PHSI) if you plan to import produce that is subject to plant health regulations and obtain quarantine release certificates once consignments have arrived and been inspected
  • get and manage certificates of conformity (required to import and export certain types of fruit and vegetables) from the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate (HMI)

TARIC codes and the UK Trade Tariff tool

Every product that is imported or exported has a TARIC code. These codes are EU-wide reference numbers that you will need to quote when you report about your goods to the relevant bodies.

The UK Trade Tariff tool allows you to look up TARIC codes and access authoritative information about import and export rules, including:

  • the rates of duty that are payable by importers
  • information about restrictions or conditions that apply when importing this product
  • contact details for the organisations involved

The Trade Tariff tool is constantly updated with the latest information on products.

The CHIEF system and DUCR numbers

CHIEF allows business users to deal with customs electronically.

For each consignment that you are importing or exporting, CHIEF will generate a Declaration Unique Consignment Reference (DUCR). You will need the DUCR number for various purposes, including to use PEACH. The CHIEF and PEACH systems communicate with each other via the Automatic Licence Verification System, making the import and export process smoother and quicker.

Other rules on food imports

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides information on importing food from outside the EU, including:

  • GRAIL, a searchable database of information about import conditions, laws and guidance notes
  • Trade Information Sheets with details of issues that importers and exporters should be aware of (eg pesticides, contaminants and packaging safety), and the organisations responsible
  • details of the FSA’s imported food enquiry service

There are also specific procedures for importing organic products from countries outside the EU.

Who should use PEACH

You should use PEACH if:

  • your business is in England and Wales
  • your business is in Scotland or Northern Ireland but you are importing or exporting goods via England or Wales

Traders importing or exporting directly to or from Scotland should contact the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate on 08457 741 741.

Traders importing or exporting directly to or from Northern Ireland should contact the DARD helpline on 028 9052 4999.

Register with PEACH

Before you use PEACH for the first time, you need to:

Entering your company name, address and contact details into the PEACH registration form will generate your company ID. This is the first of two pieces of information, or ‘known facts’, which PEACH uses to identify you.

Once your application has been approved, you are sent your trader number, which is the second known fact.

Keep these two pieces of data as you will need them to log in to PEACH.

Next, register on the Government Gateway website if you are not already registered to access another government service online. When you register, it is a good idea to print out the screen containing your new user ID and keep it in a safe place. You’ll need your Government Gateway user ID and password to log in to the PEACH system for the first time.

You can download a Guide to registering on PEACH and the Government Gateway (PDF, 753KB, 4 pages) .

Add or remove an agent on the PEACH system

If you’re a trader, you can employ an agent to use the PEACH system on your behalf.

If you want someone to start or stop using the PEACH system on your behalf, contact the PEACH helpdesk.

You’ll need to confirm your details, making it clear that you’re the trader and not the agent.

Produce which must have a certificate of conformity

The 10 fruits and vegetables covered by the Specific Marketing Standard (SMS) on quality and labelling require a certificate of conformity when they are imported to show that they comply with the standards.

They are:

  • apples
  • citrus fruit
  • kiwi fruit
  • peaches and nectarines
  • pears
  • strawberries
  • table grapes
  • lettuces, curled-leaved and broad-leaved endives
  • sweet peppers
  • tomatoes

You must apply for a certificate of conformity if you are planning to import these goods.

Produce which may need a certificate of conformity

HMRC’s CHIEF system for processing imports and exports selects 1% of consignments of produce covered by the EU’s General Marketing Standard (GMS) to go through the process for getting a certificate of conformity.

If one of your consignments is selected, you’ll get an email telling you to apply for a certificate of conformity on PEACH. Depending on the results of a risk assessment, the consignment could also be inspected.

Green bananas

Although bananas are not covered by either the specific or general marketing standards, there are special rules for bananas imported from outside the EU prior to ripening.

You must notify HMI via PEACH about imports of unripened bananas arriving at UK points of entry. After risk assessment, some consignments will be held for HMI inspection.

You can apply for exempted banana-trader status. Exempted traders’ consignments will be automatically cleared, except for a very small random sample selection. For more information about exempted banana-trader status, contact your Regional Horticultural Inspector.

These requirements do not apply once fruit has been ripened.

Apply for a certificate of conformity

Importers normally get certificates of conformity electronically via PEACH. You should apply by logging in to PEACH and giving details of:

  • what you are importing or exporting
  • where and when it will arrive
  • where and when it will be available for inspection
  • the Declaration Unique Consignment Reference (DUCR) number

You can make a paper application for a Certificate of Conformity. Request a form by contacting the PEACH helpdesk.

Under normal circumstances, a paper application is treated as high risk, triggering a physical inspection that could lead to delays before customs clearance. The inspection itself is free but the applicant for the certificate is responsible for any port or airport charges incurred.

Approved trader status

If you are an importer and your business consistently demonstrates a high level of conformity with the marketing standards, HMI can grant you approved trader status (ATS). This means that you are identified as low risk, and will be subject to fewer inspections.

For more information about ATS, contact your regional horticultural inspector (PDF, 48.9KB, 4 pages) .

Produce with a certificate of conformity issued in the country of origin

In certain cases, you can apply for a certificate of conformity from the inspection authority in the country of origin.

You must still make an application through PEACH for these consignments – the application process lets you indicate that the consignment already has a certificate.

HMI inspects a random sample of consignments arriving with certificates of conformity that were issued in the country of origin. Traders or their agents must make these certificates available to HMI and/or HMRC if required.

The table below lists the countries and types of produce this applies to.

Country Type of produce
Switzerland fresh fruit and vegetables other than citrus fruit
Morocco fresh fruit and vegetables
South Africa fresh fruit and vegetables
Israel fresh fruit and vegetables
India fresh fruit and vegetables
New Zealand apples, pears and kiwi fruit
Senegal fresh fruit and vegetables
Kenya fresh fruit and vegetables
Turkey fresh fruit and vegetables

If PEACH is unavailable

If PEACH is down for more than a short time, there is a paper-based contingency system. If you are registered on PEACH you will get a rapid alert by email and text message telling you that you need to move to the paper system and communicate with official bodies by fax.

Download a Guide to the PEACH contingency system (MS Word Document, 75KB) .

Inspections

When you apply for a certificate of conformity, PEACH assigns your consignment to a risk category, using the Import Risk Assessment System (IRAS). This risk assessment can take place up to 5 days in advance of the produce arriving. The risk categories are:

  • red for high risk – where possible, all consignments in this category are physically inspected
  • amber for medium risk – an inspector will decide whether a physical inspection is necessary
  • green for low risk – these consignments are automatically granted a certificate of conformity

Physical inspections usually take place at the point of entry of your consignment. However, if you apply for - and meet - the requirements of the local clearance procedure within Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP), the inspections may be at your own premises.

If your imported goods are covered by both marketing standards and plant health regulations, your consignment will only be inspected once. Inspectors from HMI and PHSI are able to carry out inspections for both purposes and will contact the other organisation if they find a problem it should deal with.

If your application is approved

If the consignment is assessed as low-risk or if it passes inspection, then:

  • its status is updated on PEACH
  • the application is electronically matched to the CHIEF application and will clear customs

If your application is not approved

If an inspector finds missing or incorrect labelling information or quality issues with your consignment:

  • HMI will notify the PEACH applicant (usually by phone) and will issue a refusal of entry certificate (HCG3)
  • you must decide what action you want to take to bring the goods into conformity with the marketing standards (eg by amending the labelling or designating the produce for a different use)
  • you must complete form HCG4 in PEACH telling the inspector what action you will take and where it will take place

If you correct the problem at the import point:

  • you should notify the inspector when the action has been taken
  • the inspector will re-inspect the consignment and issue a certificate of conformity if it passes

If the problem is to be corrected somewhere else:

  • you will need to ask the inspector to approve the new destination if it doesn’t already have full PCC status to process under customs control
  • you and the inspector will need to agree on a date and time for re-inspection
  • the inspector will re-inspect the consignment and issue a certificate of conformity if it passes
  • if the inspector issues a paper certificate, you will need to send it to HMRC’s National Clearance Hub to gain clearance for the consignment

The produce won’t be allowed into free circulation until a re-inspection has taken place and a certificate of conformity issued.

If you don’t apply for a certificate

If you bring a consignment of fruit or vegetables into the UK from a non-EU country without applying for certificate of conformity, the goods won’t clear customs and will be held at the point of import.

You will have to pay any subsequent airport or port charges.

If you misuse PEACH deliberately

If you don’t keep to the rules for declaring imports and exports (eg if you make false declarations), HMI could take enforcement action. This could include suspending you from using PEACH or increasing the risk level for your consignments.

Make the most of PEACH

PEACH has various features to improve your efficiency and help move your consignments through customs as quickly as possible.

PEACH automatically saves applications. If they are part-filled, they are saved for completion later - if they are completed, they are saved under ‘Use a previous form’, so that you can re-use them as templates for other applications.

If you would like other people in your business to access your PEACH system, you can set up assistants on your Government Gateway account. However, assistants have limited access rights. They can’t enrol in new Gateway services or create or delete other assistants or users. This can be useful if you use other systems on the Government Gateway but do not want your assistants to have access to that information.

If you have a large number of applications, PEACH lets you:

  • perform bulk uploads from your system to PEACH. You can download reference information to help you generate this file from the PEACH website
  • see statistics based on your applications, which can provide useful data, eg why your consignments have been given a high-risk assessment
  • see all of your outstanding applications, with their current risk assessment
  • locate a specific application - outstanding or completed – by entering the application number into PEACH’s search

Contact

If you need help or advice on using PEACH, you can contact the helpdesk:

The helpdesk is open 7am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 6pm at weekends and on bank holidays.

For more information on importing regulated fruit and vegetables, you can:

Relevant regulations