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Filippo Berio has reported delays to olive oil shipments from Italy due to the confusion

Some food exports from the EU to the UK have been delayed in the wake of new HMRC requirements that traders use EU member state country codes on customs forms for goods originating in the bloc.

Olive oil giant Filippo Berio said officials in Italy had stalled Britain-bound shipments due to the issue on the grounds that “EU” should be the code used. 

“The new HMRC guidance on the removal of ‘EU’ on import documentation is in direct conflict with the agreement reached between the UK and the EU, which is prescriptive and only permits the declaration of the ‘Union’ [on paperwork]”, said Walter Zanre, MD of Filippo Berio UK.

A HMRC spokesman acknowledged the recent announcement, which came into effect on 8 February, had ”caused some confusion”.

Article 56 of the post-Brexit EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) outlined statement of origin requirements for exporters. While not mentioning codes, the annex to the article said exporters must “indicate the origin of the product, the United Kingdom or the Union”.

On 4 February, HMRC declared “the country code ‘EU’ will no longer be valid in any data field and the specific member state country code must be used”.

The HMRC announcement came after the EU updated its requirements that country codes be used for trade among member-states on declarations to Intrastat, the bloc’s statistics repository

According to Rob Hardy, CEO of EORI UK, the revised HMRC requirement appeared to be in line with the Commission’s update, which came into effect on 1 January.

“This had been flagged,” Hardy said. “I suppose they [HMRC] have done it to be consistent with everywhere else”.

A British International Freight Association spokesman added “none of our members are reporting problems on this issue” while Logistics UK said it had not heard of specific complaints about the change.

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Others, such as Steve Cock of Kent-based The Custom House, said the issue was “not on my radar” while Hardy said “I’ve heard nothing on the ground, nobody’s kicked off about it”.

However, the HMRC spokesman said the body was “discussing this with the [European] Commission to ensure traders and intermediaries understand the requirement properly”.

Peter MacSwiney, chair of customs and freight software provider ASM, said pandemic restrictions had meant supply chain operators had not been able to discuss post-Brexit rule changes in person with officials and to map out potential paperwork issues with them.

“We haven’t had a face to face meeting of any significance with HMRC,” he said. “I think the last one we had was February 2020. 

“You don’t meet in a room where you talk to people from the RHA [Road Haulage Association], from the ports, from the ferry companies, you don’t get a broader picture of what’s going on,” he added.

Zanre added: “Civil servants are making it all unnecessarily complex. Different departments that are not connected don’t talk to each other and with different messages.”

Some exporters have in the meantime been reporting increased customs charges due to take effect this year amid an increasingly turbulent trading environment. Rising energy and shipping costs have hit food producers and traders hard and have fuelled surging food commodity and consumer price inflation.

The UK on 1 January started to implement controls on goods coming from the EU, with physical checks set to start from July. British exporters of fish and dairy had earlier complained of delays due to new EU Health certificate requirements.