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Importing and exporting art post-Brexit

Posted on 9 March 2021

Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU single market, both individuals and businesses exporting and importing artworks between the UK and EU will likely encounter many changes to their sales VAT, import VAT and customs duty obligations, as well as alterations to the controls and procedures at the UK borders.

On 30 December 2020, the UK and EU entered into the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Whilst co-operative in nature, the terms of the Agreement are prescriptive, and guidance is thus far limited. The key considerations for importers, exporters and international owners of artwork post-Brexit, are as follows:

Sales VAT

  • Where goods are sold in the UK to be exported from the UK by the supplier within the appropriate time limit (which is often three months, with sufficient evidence of the export date), the sale should be a zero-rated supply for UK sales VAT purposes. Otherwise, UK sales VAT would apply in the normal way at up to 20%. However, as before, there are reduced or even zero rates applied to certain supplies, such as children's clothing and footwear.
  • For savvy international customers that used to rely on VAT-saving schemes such as the Retail Export Scheme, their experience in the UK will now be significantly different. Essentially, if a buyer is visitor to the UK and buying art for personal use, zero-rating will no longer apply on the sale, and VAT will be charged (and usually not reclaimable) at up to 20%, even if they export the artworks from the UK shortly thereafter.

Import VAT and Customs Duty ("import duties")

  • The Trade and Cooperation Agreement forbids the imposition of tariffs, quotas, and import/export taxes at the UK-EU border, if the goods "originate" in the UK or the EU. Interpretation of that rule will however depend on the receiving jurisdiction, and its local rules, rates and procedures.
  • As before, there should still be no tariffs payable on antiques and many kinds of arts.
  • Where duties are payable, the importer of record is usually liable to pay them. As a result, where goods cross the border, you must consider the following:
    • The receiving jurisdiction(s) may impose import duties on certain goods based on their value, subject to exceptions and any applicable reliefs in that jurisdiction.
    • There will be new customs, safety and regulatory checks, which will likely to cause delays and friction when moving certain goods across the border, especially in the earlier part of 2021.
    • Reliefs for UK import duties have remained, largely intact, such as Temporary Importation Relief and Inward Processing Relief. To apply these reliefs, it will be more important than ever to ensure the conditions are satisfied, the relief claimed and monetary guarantees provided, in advance.
  • The UK has introduced a system of "Postponed VAT Accounting" since 1 January 2021.
  • UK sellers exporting art to the EU will likely need to register for VAT in the applicable Member State of sale.
  • Non-UK sellers importing art into the UK will likely need to register for UK VAT, and will not be able to rely on previous registrations under EU Margin Schemes.

Practical points to consider

Businesses must obtain an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number that starts with GB in order to commercially import and export goods from England, Wales and Scotland. The procedure in Northern Ireland may differ.

Businesses should no longer have to complete Intrastat EC Sales Lists for EU supplies.

Exporters may require licences to export certain goods, depending on their type, classification, age and value. For example, there are several restrictions on exporting certain artworks from the UK.

It will be important to use a carrier that is well versed in delivering art and completing customs duties under these new rules. Some may also be able to act as a business' "VAT Fiscal Representative" and "Indirect Customs Representative", as required in some Member States.

In light of the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be further delays in sending and receiving any necessary registrations and applications, as well as delays at the border itself.

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