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First step of the Blue Belt initiative

5 November 2013

The European Commission adopted on 5th November 2013 a modification to the Implementing Regulation of the Customs Code  in other to facilitate the Regular Shipping Service (RSS) scheme. This measure constitutes the first step of the Blue Belt initiative that the European Commission launched this Summer.

Territorial waters are considered as the EU's external borders. So technically, vessels travelling between EU ports are leaving the EU Customs Territory. As a result, customs clearance is required when the vessel leaves the port of departure and again when the vessel arrives at the port of destination unless the vessel is travelling under a Regular Shipping Service scheme.

Union goods carried onboard ships with a status of Regular Shipping Service maintain their Union status when leaving a Member State's port for discharge at another Member State's port. The status is granted by customs to a shipping company that has made a specific application for it and it is restricted to ships that operate solely between ports located in EU Member States.

With the adopted modification, the Regular Shipping Service status will become more attractive. Firstly, the consultation period following an application will be reduced from 45 to 15 days. Secondly, shipping companies will have the possibility to add from the beginning also potential future Member States' ports to the list of ports to be served by a Regular Shipping Service.
The new Regular Shipping Service scheme will be applied as of 1st March 2014.

Background
The European Commission adopted on 8th July 2013 a Communication , creating a policy framework for the future “Blue Belt” environment. In the Blue Belt area, ships will be able to operate freely with a minimum of administrative formalities to fulfil. The proposed approach is twofold:

  1. On the one hand, looking at the purely intra-EU movements of vessels (currently limited to 10-20% of traffic, realized through Regular Shipping Services, and not attractive to containerized traffic) through further simplification of the Regular Shipping Service scheme in the Customs legislation by shortening deadlines for the application procedure and making the procedure for adding new Member States to the service more flexible.
  2. On the other hand, looking at vessels carrying both EU and non-EU goods and calling also at non-EU ports, where a so-called eManifest, an electronic harmonised cargo document would allow for facilitation and speeding up of customs procedures for EU cargo by enabling customs to distinguish between Union and non-Union goods. Currently, all goods arriving in EU ports are considered to be non-Union goods, even if they come from a previous EU port without having called in a 3rd country port. An implementing act is prepared for the end of year 2013. Discussions with maritime and customs authorities as well as representatives from the maritime sector on the development and implementation are currently taking place. The eManifest should be ready to be applied as of June 2015 to coincide with the establishment of the National Single Windows as foreseen in the Reporting Formalities Directive.

The EU is highly dependent on maritime transport for its trade with the rest of the world and within the internal market. Nevertheless, shipping is not used to its full potential mainly due to administrative burden, especially in the field of customs. Indeed, even though administrative simplified procedures for maritime transport have already been introduced by EU legislation, vessels travelling between EU ports still encounter a significant number of complex procedures. These procedures involve costs and delays that can make maritime transport less attractive for the transport of goods in the EU internal market.

The Blue Belt is a concept according to which ships can operate freely within the EU internal market with a minimum of administrative burden and in which safety, environmental protection as well as customs and tax revenues are ensured by an optimal use of existing capabilities to monitor maritime transport and the cargo concerned.

Key action 2 of the Commission Communication on Single Market Act II " calls for the establishment of a true single market for maritime transport by no longer subjecting EU goods transported between EU seaports to administrative and customs formalities that apply to goods arriving from overseas ports.