Outside the EU
The European Union is both the biggest investor and exporter of goods and services in the world. Its strategic aim is to ensure that its economy is open and competitive on the world stage.
International trade policy
A key component of the EU's growth and jobs strategy is access to foreign markets for EU business.
In matters of international trade, the EU works closely with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other multilateral organisations. Its role also extends to bilateral trade agreements, regulatory cooperation, conformity assessment and mutual recognition agreements and the defence of EU interests when non-EU countries create technical barriers to trade or in the case of dumping.
To remedy the low level of small business involvement within EU and non-EU markets, the European Commission launched a project and a number of studies on supporting the internationalisation of small businesses to find out the level of internationalisation of European SMEs, pinpoint the barriers and the drivers for expanding across borders, and propose policy recommendations on how to support greater internationalisation of European SMEs.
Because the EU itself is a customs union, EU businesses do not have to perform any checks or pay any duties when they send products across internal EU borders. The EU customs union is therefore an essential element in the functioning of the single market.
The procedures applicable to goods traded with non-EU countries are set out in the Community Customs Code. The procedures are the same in all EU countries. Imported and exported goods are classified and declared according to the EU's combined nomenclature.
To find out what duty they will have to pay for a given product, importers can consult TARIC (the EU's integrated tariff), which contains all customs duties and trade policy measures as well as information on quotas and preferential trade agreements. Customs authorities can provide traders with the tariff classification of the goods they intend to import or export (Binding tariff information - BTI).
Developing countries can enjoy duty-free access to the EU market or a tariff reduction under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), provided they meet certain international environmental and labour standards.
Customs policy is designed both to protect EU consumers against dangerous products, notably fakes, and to simplify trade procedures for the benefit of compliant businesses. An EU Decision was adopted at the beginning of 2008, with the aim of gradually computerising customs procedures in the EU and creating a one-stop shop for each cross-border shipment of goods throughout the EU.
New procedures have been made compulsory since 1 January 2011 under the "Safety and security amendment" to the Customs Code. These ensure an equivalent level of protection through customs controls for all goods brought into or out of the EU's customs territory.
Companies doing business abroad need to know how to manage their intellectual property rights in another country.
The market access database provides information on world tariffs, customs rules and duties. Businesses can use the complaint register to notify the European Commission of measures restricting imports and investment in markets outside the EU.
Several customs databases have been developed by the European Commission and operate in conjunction with EU countries' customs and taxation services.
The export helpdesk helps exporters in developing countries to access the EU market.
The EU has developed several programmes to strengthen the presence of EU companies in different regions of the world by developing business cooperation.
Customs 2013 is a programme designed to improve cooperation between EU countries' customs administrations and the European Commission, helping the 27 EU countries to reach the common goals more easily in terms of protecting people and facilitating trade.
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