Interest claim in the case of incorrect customs tariff classification

If the customs authorities of an EU member state determine during a review that higher import duties are payable than originally assessed, they have been able to add interest to the additional amount since 2016. A new court judgement now stipulates that customs authorities must also pay interest on unjustly overcharged import duties.

Interest in European Union Customs Regulations

The EU Customs Code (UCC) serves to harmonise all customs and tariff measures that are applied in the context of trade in goods with third countries. If national regulations of the member states deviate from the UCC, they may no longer be applied. This also includes various so-called interest accruals, including default interest or credit interest in the event of payment deferrals. However, there is no entitlement to interest from the customs authorities for refunded import duties. Nevertheless, the ECJ already clarified in 2017 that such a claim does exist if the import duties were levied in breach of Union law, e.g. if customs-relevant provisions are subsequently classified as invalid. Not, however, if the customs authorities arrive at incorrect assessments during the customs procedure that are later corrected.

Interest claim in the event of incorrect interpretation of the Union Customs Code

An importer of consumer electronics took legal action against this interpretation of the law before the Hessian Fiscal Court and was ultimately upheld. This was because the ECJ had recently ruled in 2022 that a corresponding claim also existed in the event of an incorrect application of EU law. As the UCC is Union law, it is not clear why an exception should be made here. This is because an incorrect import duty assessment constitutes an incorrect application of the Customs Code. At least if the customs authorities could have come to a correct decision on the basis of the information available.

What German importers and exporters should know

If your customs authority issues a corrected import duty notice and refunds costs, it is worth checking whether there is a claim for interest. However, it is important to note that the customs authorities only have to pay interest, but are not entitled to late payment penalties or even compound interest if the refund takes a long time.

An appeal against the judgement is currently pending before the German Federal Fiscal Court. We will keep you up to date on further developments in our blog.