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Blue Belt to knock shipping into shape

[ July 10, 2013   //   ]

The European Commission launched two proposals to ease customs formalities for shipping in Europe on 8 July.

It plans to upgrade the procedures already in place for intra-European shipping to make them shorter and more flexible. However, as almost 90% of ships carry both EU and non EU goods and call at EU and non-EU ports for example in Norway, Northern Africa and Russia, the Commission is proposing an eManifest harmonised electronic cargo declaration.

Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas called for maritime transport in Europe to be put on an equal footing with other forms of transport in a speech in Brussels. He said: “The days when lorries, or trains faced customs checks and controls as they moved within Europe’s Single Market are long gone. So it make no sense that today, a ship travelling from Antwerp to Rotterdam, has the same customs formalities as if it were coming from China.”

Taxation and customs commissioner Algirdas Šemeta laid out the proposals for the Commission’s Blue Belt proposals, acknowledging that shipping faces unique challenges compared with land transport. The Commissioner said: “For a start, each ship carries huge volumes of goods to be cleared…in 2011, EU customs handled more than 1.7 billion tons of merchandise travelling by sea.

“Moreover, vessels nearly always leave the EU territory, even in voyages between EU ports. This places them outside the direct surveillance of authorities, and therefore more exposed to risk. In 2011, maritime transport also accounted for the highest volume of illegal goods – 810 million illicit cigarettes and 70 million counterfeit products were seized, for example.”

The dual challenge facing legislators was how to facilitate trade in the sector, by easing and speeding up customs procedures while still protecting EU citizens and businesses against illegal goods entering the single market.

While shipping operators on regular routes within the EU and transporting mainly EU goods, can already benefit from lighter customs procedures under the Regular Shipping Services procedures the Blue Belt proposals aim to make them shorter and more flexible. Operators will be able to obtain authorisation from customs authorities more quickly, in as little as 15 days compared with 45 days currently. There will also be simplified procedures for adding new ports of call to existing itineraries.

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