Customs Liability for E-Commerce Intermediaries

Many people are needed to facilitate international e-commerce. There are sometimes third party intermediaries associated with facilitating transactions. Even though these intermediaries have nothing to do with the physical delivery process of the goods, they must consider customs liability when involved in a transaction. 

The Community Customs Code for the EU states that a debtor of a customs debt is defined as a person who was aware, or should have been aware of the introduction of goods into the EU customs territory. 

EU liability ruling

On November 17, 2011, the European Court of Justice ruled that an intermediary in an e-commerce transaction can be held liable for customs debts if the goods are deemed to be unlawfully introduced, regardless of their involvement in the physical delivery of the goods. This includes a person who acts as an intermediary for the conclusion of contracts of sale relating to the goods.

The case arose from a notice of assessment issued to a trader for the unlawful introduction of goods in the the EU. The trader had auctioned Chinese produced items in Germany on eBay. The Chinese Supplier set the sales price and procured the goods for delivery directly to German online buyers. The trader acted as an intermediary by concluding contracts of sales and collecting the sales price. When shipped, the goods were never presented to customs and inaccurate declarations were presented by the supplier as to the contents and value of shipments.

Conclusion

Ecommerce business operators acting as intermediaries need to be aware of their joint obligation to pay import duties when goods are delivered. They also must ensure that goods aren't unlawfully introduced. To reduce customs liability, operators can include a safety clause for customs debt obligations clearly stating that they aren't a debtor and that debt can be deferred to the appropriate party.

What other customs liability considerations do you think about when dealing with international ecommerce? Leave your comments in the comments section below.

source: Deloitte CGT Technical Newsletter January 2012

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