Importing from Vietnam to the EU

Your Guide to Customs Compliance and the EVFTA

The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement has reshaped the trade landscape between Europe and Vietnam. The result? A surge in bilateral trade opens up exciting new business opportunities on both sides. However, understanding import regulations and customs compliance is essential to navigate these lucrative waters successfully.

Why Customs Matter: Avoiding Costly Delays and Penalties

Think of customs regulations as the traffic rules of international trade. They ensure the smooth flow of goods, protect against illegal activities, and generate revenue for governments. Failing to comply with these regulations can bring your imports to a standstill.

Unlock EVFTA Savings: Understanding Customs for Vietnamese Imports

To unlock the benefits of importing from Vietnam into the EU, you must carefully navigate customs regulations.

The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) is a landmark agreement that entered into force on 1 August 2020. It progressively reduces trade barriers between the European Union and Vietnam, providing significant benefits for businesses on both sides. A separate component, the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement, will further improve the investment climate once ratified by all EU member states.

Key Elements of the Trade Agreement

  • Tariff Elimination: The EVFTA removes 99% of all tariffs, with the remaining 1% phased out through limited zero-duty quotas. Vietnam has removed 65% of duties on EU goods, and the rest will be eliminated by 2030. The EU will phase out its duties by 2027.
  • Non-Tariff Barriers: Addresses regulatory barriers and red tape to streamline trade.
  • Intellectual Property: Protects intellectual property rights, including geographical indications for regional food and drink products.
  • Open Markets: Opens up Vietnam’s services and public procurement markets.
  • Enforceability: Provides mechanisms to ensure adherence to the agreed rules.

Benefits for EU Businesses

  • Reduced Costs: Tariff elimination lowers the cost of EU goods in Vietnam, making key exports like machinery, appliances, motorcycles, cars, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and chemicals more competitive.
  • Simplified Processes: Reduced regulatory hurdles streamline trade procedures.
  • IP Protection: Safeguards intellectual property, boosting confidence in the market.
  • Market Access: Opens new opportunities in Vietnam’s services and public procurement sectors.

Visit the European Commission’s Trade Portal for detailed information and resources.

Let’s break down the fundamentals:

Tariffs: The EVFTA Advantage

The EVFTA systematically reduces and, often, eliminates tariffs on Vietnamese goods entering the EU market. However, these reductions are implemented in two ways:

  • Immediate Elimination: A substantial portion of goods qualify for zero tariffs when the EVFTA comes into force.
  • Phased Reduction: Some sensitive goods have tariffs reduced gradually over a set period (e.g., up to 7 or 10 years).

Refrain from relying on guesswork! Determining your product’s specific tariff treatment is crucial. Utilise the EU’s Market Access Database. This official resource allows you to search by product code or description for its precise tariff schedule under the EVFTA.

Rules of Origin: Proving Your Goods Qualify

To benefit from the EVFTA’s preferential tariffs, your goods must qualify as “originating” in Vietnam. This goes beyond mere shipment location and is determined by strict Rules of Origin. These rules consider:

  • Origin of Materials: Where the raw components of your product were sourced or produced.
  • Manufacturing Processes: The types of processing or transformation that took place within Vietnam. Not just assembly, but significant value must be added.
  • Cumulation Provisions: The EVFTA allows materials originating in specific partner countries (e.g., South Korea) to count towards your product’s Vietnamese content under certain conditions.

Note: Rules of origin are product-specific! Don’t assume general knowledge applies to your goods. You can consult official EVFTA resources or seek professional guidance to ensure your product qualifies.

Documentation: It’s All in the Paperwork

To clear customs smoothly, each of your shipments from Vietnam will require a set of essential documents:

  • Commercial Invoice: This document details the shipped goods, their value, the seller, and the buyer. It is crucial for customs valuation.
  • Packing List: Itemizes the contents of the shipment for customs verification.
  • Certificate of Origin: This is your proof that the goods qualify for preferential EVFTA tariffs. Obtain it from your Vietnamese supplier or an authorised issuing body.
  • REX System (for Frequent Traders): The EU’s Registered Exporter system streamlines the Certificate of Origin process. If you import regularly, determine if registration could save you time and hassle.

Additional Considerations: Depending on their nature, some goods (e.g., healthcare products and certain foodstuffs) may require further permits, licences, or certifications.

Valuation: How Much is it Worth (to Customs)?

Refrain from assuming the price you paid for your goods is the final word for customs purposes! EU authorities employ specific valuation methods outlined in the Union Customs Code. This calculated “customs value” directly determines the amount of import duties you’ll owe.

Why Customs Valuation Matters: There are several scenarios where the customs value might differ from your invoice price, such as:

  • Purchases from related parties: Customs may scrutinise the price if you buy from a subsidiary or affiliated company.
  • Inclusion of royalties or licence fees: These costs, if part of your product total, may need to be factored in.
  • Free samples or heavily discounted goods: Customs may establish a fair market value.

Import Restrictions and Prohibitions: Know the Limits

Import regulations are not just about tariffs! It’s crucial to grasp the concept of prohibitions and restrictions to ensure your goods can legally enter the EU. Let’s delve into this:

Prohibited Goods: Certain products are banned from being imported into the EU. These include:

  • Endangered species protected under international conventions (CITES)
  • Illicit narcotics
  • Counterfeit products and goods violating intellectual property rights

Restricted Goods: Many products require special licences, approvals, or quotas, including:

  • Certain chemicals and hazardous substances
  • Specific agricultural and food products (subject to safety and sanitary rules)
  • Firearms and weapons

Health, Safety, and Environment: EU standards are stringent. Your goods might require extra certifications, testing, or labelling to prove compliance with regulations in these areas.

Important: This is an overview! Check official EU resources and consult experts for comprehensive information, especially if your products fall into potentially sensitive categories.

The EVFTA Advantage: Lower Costs, Higher Profits

The EVFTA isn’t just about compliance – it’s about unlocking significant business advantages. By eliminating or significantly reducing tariffs on a wide range of Vietnamese goods, the EVFTA enables EU importers to:

Profitability, Competitiveness, & Resilience

Boost Your Bottom Line: With reduced or eliminated tariffs, your cost of importing Vietnamese goods decreases, leading to higher potential profit margins.

Gain a Competitive Edge: Leverage lower costs to either undercut competitors’ prices (within the same quality tier) or increase your margins while remaining price-competitive. This can boost sales and your EU market share.

Diversify Your Supply Chain: The EVFTA makes Vietnam an even more appealing sourcing destination. Spreading your sourcing lessens your vulnerability to disruptions in a single market.

Important! The extent of these benefits depends on your product category, existing profit margins, and competitive landscape. The EVFTA gives you powerful tools – make the most of them!

The EVFTA in Action: Where Opportunity Grows

Let’s look at how the EVFTA unlocks the potential for savvy importers:

Textiles and Footwear: Reduced tariffs make Vietnamese garments and shoes more appealing to EU consumers, who are known for their style and quality standards.

Electronics: As tariffs decline, Vietnam becomes a more attractive source for components and assembled electronics, boosting cost-competitiveness for EU brands.

Agriculture and Seafood: The vast EU market is hungry for Vietnam’s quality rice, seafood, and processed foods. The EVFTA can significantly expand your customer base.

Reminder! To reap these benefits, ensure your products qualify as “originating” in Vietnam. This involves meeting specific rules of origin and providing the correct documentation (Certificate of Origin).

Debunking Myths for Smooth Imports

Trade regulations are complex, and even veterans can sometimes stumble. Avoid costly compliance errors by understanding these crucial points:

“The EVFTA = Automatic Zero Tariffs.”

Reality: While many goods are duty-free, phase-outs and exceptions exist. Know the specifics of your products.

“Shipped from Vietnam = EVFTA Qualified.”

Reality: Rules of origin are about how goods are made, not just where they’re sent from. Work with your supplier to ensure compliance.

“Customs Value is Just My Invoice Price.”

Reality: EU authorities have strict methods. Surprises at customs can hurt your bottom line.

“I’m Set Up, So I’m Done.”

Reality: Rules change! Protect your business by regularly checking reliable sources for updates.

Staying Ahead of the Regulations Curve

The European Commission’s Trade Portal

  • Specific guidance on the EVFTA
  • Up-to-date tariff information and tools
  • News on any policy changes

Official Updates: Official Journal of the European Union

The primary source for new EU legislation, including updated customs regulations.


Understanding the Vietnamese Perspective: A Compliance Advantage

While EU regulations are paramount, pay attention to the value of understanding Vietnam’s export rules. This knowledge, especially when working closely with suppliers, can help:

  • Ensure Alignment: Double-check that your supplier understands Vietnamese requirements, preventing mismatched expectations.
  • Navigate Origin Rules: Vietnamese trade authorities may be able to clarify origin criteria or assist with the proper documentation.
  • Stay Ahead of Changes Vietnam may also update its regulations. Proactive monitoring can prevent delays.

Overcoming the Language Barrier: Vietnam Customs’ website is primarily in Vietnamese. Consider:

  • Translation Tools: Online tools can provide a basic understanding of simple inquiries.
  • Vietnamese-speaking Partner: A partner or consultant fluent in Vietnamese offers invaluable assistance for complex issues or ongoing trade.

Tap into Industry Networks and Expertise: Support for Your Imports

Trade Associations: Organizations focused on your specific industry (e.g., electronics, textiles, agriculture) often monitor EU-Vietnam trade regulations closely. Look for newsletters, webinars, or member-only resources.

Specialised Consultants: When navigating complex goods (e.g., those with multi-country origins, subject to technical regulations), a customs consultant provides in-depth expertise. This investment can save you from costly errors and ensure smooth imports.

Don’t let changing regulations derail your EU-Vietnam trade success!

Do You Need Personalised Customs Support? Let’s Talk.


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