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European Commission


Brussels, 8 July 2013

Blue Belt: Commission eases customs formalities for ships

What is the problem?

The EU is highly dependent on maritime transport for its trade with the rest of the world and within the internal market. Nevertheless, inside the EU shipping is not used to its full potential mainly due to considerable administrative requirements. Indeed, even though administrative simplified procedures for maritime transport have already been introduced by EU legislation, vessels travelling between EU ports still encounter a significant number of complex procedures. These procedures involve costs and delays that can make maritime transport less attractive for the transport of goods in the EU internal market.

Cutting red tape has been considered a major element for promoting the greater use of short sea shipping and seaborne trade between EU ports. Additionally, reducing the number of cargo checks - especially of cargos which would not be checked would they travel on land - would allow authorities to focus on higher risk areas.

What are the current rules?

Territorial waters are considered as the EU's external borders. So technically, vessels travelling between EU ports are leaving the EU Customs Territory. As a result, customs clearance is required when the vessel leaves the port of departure and again when the vessel arrives at the port of destination (unless the vessel is travelling under a Regular Shipping Service (RSS) scheme). All goods carried on board are considered to be non-Union goods and need to pass through customs controls. This means they have to be identified as Union goods and be placed back in the Internal Market or as real non-Union goods and be subject to the normal customs formalities.

What are we proposing?

The Commission will propose a Blue Belt package with two main measures reducing unnecessary administrative burden for the maritime industry and extending further the benefits of the Single Market to maritime transport, while at the same time continuing to guarantee the safe and secure transport of goods to, from and within the EU.

A further simplification for the application procedure of the 'regular shipping service', a customs facilitation scheme for vessels, carrying mainly EU goods, sailing to the same European ports on a regular basis, is a first part of the package.

However, a vast majority of containerized traffic has mixed cargo, i.e. both Union and non-Union goods that transit regularly via non-EU ports (e.g. in the Baltic, Mediterranean or Black sea), to which the concept of 'regular shipping service' cannot be applied. Therefore, an additional new tool, the so-called eManifest, a harmonised electronic cargo manifest based on the existing FAL forms, will be introduced. This will allow for proving the EU or non-EU status of goods, even when the goods have left the EU customs territory. This facilitation answers to long-standing expectations of maritime trade to have an EU harmonised manifest and will allow complying with the requirements as well as facilitating and speeding up of customs procedures for EU cargo at the same time.

What are the benefits?

With these initiatives, the Blue Belt will become reality and stimulate real Blue growth. The main aims are to:

  1. improve the sector's competitiveness through the reduction of administrative burden and costs,

  2. improve the attractiveness of maritime transport,

  3. stimulate employment,

  4. reduce the environmental impact of maritime transport.

This benefits both the industry and ultimately the consumer, which will be able to benefit from more efficient and cheaper maritime transport as well as the ports and maritime transport industries which will become more attractive. It also benefits customs authorities through an harmonised procedure throughout the EU and an improvement of the quality of data received.

How will Blue Belt work in practice? Practical examples

1. Easing customs formalities for intra-EU shipping

Let's say that I'm a UK operator, wanting to offer a regular shipping service between Felixstowe in the UK, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Copenhagen in Denmark and in the future perhaps to Gdansk in Poland. What do I need to do?

  1. I contact the UK customs authorities to ask for the authorisation.

  2. I indicate that this service would run between Felixstowe, Rotterdam and Copenhagen.

  3. I also indicate that I might add Gdansk in the future.

  4. The UK contacts all relevant Member States, i.e. the Netherlands, Denmark and Poland to ask for their permission. Member States will have up to 15 days (instead of the current 45 days!) to answer.

  5. After positive replies, the UK grants the final authorisation. This means that for any Union goods on board, they do not need customs supervision.

Result: I will be able to offer the service at a relatively short notice. Later on, if I wish to modify the service to include the port of Gdansk, I can do that in a very smooth way, without having to launch a new authorisation procedure again.

2. Easing customs formalities for ships that call in third country ports

Today, a vessel travelling from Antwerp to Rotterdam is considered to have left the EU customs territory. Consequently, upon arrival in Rotterdam, all goods on board are considered to be non-Union goods, having to go through all necessary customs procedures. With the eManifest, operators will be able to prove the Union status of the goods on board, even if the vessel has left the EU customs territory to move from one EU port to another or if the vessel has called at a third country port in between.

Imagine the following vessel voyage: Shanghai (China) – Antwerp (Belgium) – Marseilles (France) – Tangiers (Morocco) – Limassol (Cyprus)

With the Blue Belt facilitation the following scenario would be possible:

A ship sailing from Shanghai arrives in Antwerp. 100% of the goods on board arrive from outside the EU and are mentioned as non-Union goods on the eManifest. Upon arrival in Antwerp, all goods are subject to the necessary customs risk assessment. A part of the cargo is unloaded in Antwerp and cleared by customs for entry and free circulation into the EU customs territory. The ship then loads additional EU cargo, destined for Marseilles and Limassol respectively. In the eManifest it is stated that the ship now carries x% of Union goods (loaded in Antwerp) and y% of non-Union goods (coming from China).

The ship then sails to France. Upon arrival in Marseilles, Union goods destined for Marseilles can be quickly released by customs, based upon their status indicated in the eManifest. Only all non-Union goods will go through the appropriate customs procedures.

The ship continues its voyage. On its way to Limassol, it makes a stop in Tangiers to load additional goods. The eManifest is updated. All goods initially coming from China and additional goods loaded in Tangiers are considered to be non-Union goods. The goods destined for Limassol are still mentioned as Union goods. When the ship arrives in Limassol, the Union goods, initially loaded in Antwerp, can be quickly released by customs, based upon their continued Union status indicated in the eManifest. Again, only the non-Union goods are subject to customs controls.

Facts and figures

  1. In the EU, 1 job aboard a vessel means 9 jobs on land.

  2. An increase of 1 million tonnes passing through a port will lead to 300 more jobs.

  3. By 2030 there will be 15% more jobs in ports sector.

  4. 74% of the goods imported and exported by the Union transit through seaports.

  5. 37% of the exchanges within the Union transit through seaports.

  6. The EU has three ports among the 15 biggest ports in the world: Rotterdam is 11th, Hamburg is 14th, Antwerp is 15th.

  7. In 20 years, the number of containers in the world has more than quadrupled.

More key facts and figures here:

More information:

Infographics on EU ports:

European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) –

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