Paper and printing: international trade regulations

Licensing requirements for importers and exporters, duty rates, reliefs and import VAT for printed books, newspapers and related products.


This guide provides an overview of the paper and printing industries, the regulations you will need to comply with as an exporter or importer and selected sources of further help and support.

This guide also outlines your tariff and duty obligations and shows you how to research the countries to which you plan to export.

Export regulations in the paper and printing industries

Regulations, charges or restrictions may apply to paper and printing 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 the guides on exporting your goods from the EU to a third country and dispatching your goods within the EU.

Remember that in general it is simpler to trade with other EU countries than with countries outside the EU. This is 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).

Researching your export destination in the paper and printing industries

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 and Investment (UKTI). Find your local international trade team on the UKTI website.

There are also various ways that you can research a potential export destination. These include:

Aside from setting out detailed descriptions of paper and printing products under their customs code number, the UK Tariff will show you whether any duties, prohibitions, restrictions and/or preferential measures apply to trade of that commodity within the EU and/or with third countries.

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 where they differ from those in the UK.

For a general guide to market information on sectors and countries, see the guide on researching and entering overseas markets.

Tariffs and duties in the paper and printing industries

A range of regulations must be complied with by businesses trading internationally, including those in this sector. The main issues relate to the Tariff, duties and Intrastat and intellectual property (IP).

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.

For more information on classifying your goods, see the guide on classifying imports and exports using the UK Integrated Tariff.

The Tariff is used 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 reductions in preferential duty rates

You should note that most printed matter is free from customs duty and is also free from VAT in the UK.

Preferential duty rates

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows originating products from a range of countries to be imported in the EU at a reduced or zero rate of duty. For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one, read Notice 830 - Tariff Preference: New GSP rules of origin on the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website.

The European Community has a number of other trade agreements with third countries (countries outside the EU), as a result of which goods may attract preferential duty rates.


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.

Intellectual property

You should ensure that imported goods do not breach the IP rights of other businesses, eg watch out for counterfeit goods and design infringements. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by HMRC. You can ask HMRC to check for imported counterfeit versions of your goods. Read how HMRC can help protect your IP rights on the HMRC website.

Also see the guide on how to protect your intellectual property. 

For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 states the duration of copyright as the life of the author plus 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies (although there are a few exceptions to this rule). Most EU countries apply this duration. Spain, however, is an exception. You can find out more about how copyright and other forms of IP protection work on the Intellectual Property Office website and find out about licensing options to protect or copy content in printed and digital publications on the Copyright Licensing Agency website.

Outside the EU, most countries, including Australia, Japan, Canada, and the Russian Federation, still apply the 50-years post-mortem duration, as mandated by the International Berne Copyright treaty. The copyright situation in the USA, however, is complicated. Find out how long copyright lasts in the USA on the Copyright Society of the USA website.

Import regulations in the paper and printing industries

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 EU. You can also see 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 the guide on importing your goods from outside the EU.

Import licences

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.

Other regulations may impose permanent or ad hoc quantity restrictions, quotas and/or anti-dumping duties. For more information, see the guide on anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

For help identifying whether you require an import licence see the guide on controlled goods: licences, sanctions and embargoes.

Use the UK Tariff for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply. Aside from setting out detailed descriptions of paper and printing products under their customs code number, the UK Tariff will show you whether any duties, prohibitions, restrictions and/or preferential measures apply to trade of that commodity within the EU and/or with third countries.

Most printed matter is free from customs duty and is also free from VAT in the UK.

The Forest Steward Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) Council operate schemes that act as a guarantee that timber and timber products are verifiably sourced from forests that are sustainably managed. Find out more about PEFC schemes on the PEFC website.

Goods imported to the UK must comply with domestic business standards.

Sources of help and support in the paper and printing industries

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

The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support to UK exporters is UKTI. 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. You can find information on the services they offer to exporters.

You can also find details of your local international trade team using a postcode search on the UKTI website.

Government sources of help and information

In addition to UKTI, HMRC can provide business support in the paper and printing sector. Find information about importing and exporting on the HMRC website.

Paper and printing trade associations and other bodies

You can also find contact details for trade associations and other bodies on the website. Find useful advice and support from the Manufacturing Advisory Service.

You can find advisory services on health and safety, human resources, and commercial and environmental law on the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) website. The BPIF is a trade association offering business support to the UK print, printed packaging and graphic communication industry.

Other trade associations include:

Further information

UKTI enquiry line

020 7215 8000

HMRC Tariff Classification Email Advice Service

You can email for advice on non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes. You should include the information detailed in the annex of the Customs Information Paper 27 (2015).

Environment and Energy helpline

0800 585 794

Environment Agency helpline

03708 506 506

HMRC Climate Change Levy helpline

0161 874 3668

Breaking down the barriers: a basic guide to new importers and exporters on the HMRC website

International trade team search on the UKTI website

Trade data information on the uktradeinfo website

Guidance on growing your business internationally on the UKTI website

Export information on the British Chambers of Commerce website

GSP on the BIS website

EU customs tariff information for importers on the BIS website

Market information for individual countries on the UKTI website

Copyright explained on the Intellectual Property Office website

PEFC schemes on the PEFC website

Published 21 September 2012