The product coverage of many external trade measures, including every tariff quota, must be clearly defined for reasons of legal security and for clarity. Such definitions are based at least on the combined nomenclature of products (CN). However a single external trade measure may relate to a whole group of products, in contrast with only one product, and therefore may cover more than a single CN code. As a convenient means to label external trade measures, including tariff quotas, the Community uses a standardised six-digit code, known as the order number.
Where the measure is a tariff quota, the first two digits of the six-digit code are "09". Where the tariff quota is managed on the basis of import licences, the third digit of the order number is "4". The use of any other third digit indicates that the tariff quota is managed in accordance with the chronological order of dates of acceptance of customs declarations
Tariff quotas in the series "09.4..." are managed, on the basis of import licences, by the Commission's Directorate-General for Agriculture. Enquiries should be addressed to the specific unit of that Directorate-General responsible for the common organisation of the market of the products in question.
Import quotas for textile products are based on import licences, and are not tariff quotas. They are managed by the Commission's Directorate-General for Trade. Balances and other management data about these quotas can be obtained on-line at http://sigl.cec.eu.int/
When considering new tariff measures, including new tariff quotas, the Community institutions generally seek to ensure that the legal act is adopted and published in the Official Journal of the European Communities at least two months prior to its entry into force. The reference data for new tariff quotas managed in accordance with the chronological order of dates of acceptance of customs declarations should not be incorporated into the QUOTA database until the legal act is published. However in cases of extreme urgency, that data may be inserted as soon as a legal act is adopted.
By administrative agreement between the Commission services and the administrations of the Member States, access to new tariff quotas is blocked for at least two weeks after the publication. This does not prevent imports from being declared to the customs and drawing requests from being made.
Tariff quotas are opened during a defined validity period. The legal act opening a tariff quota should specify its duration. As a rule, except for so-called "autonomous tariff quotas", the duration of these acts is indefinite. The tariff quotas thus opened are reopened automatically year by year. In some cases, however, an expiry date is specified in the legal act. Reopening is not automatic in these cases, but may nevertheless be decided in another legal act.
The simultaneous display of a positive balance and a block date generally signifies that a quantity has been returned (Article 308a(10) of Commission Regulation (EEC) No 2454/93) to a tariff quota whose initial volume had already been exhausted. The most common causes for a return are the discovery of a fault in another drawing request or of a fault in the customs declaration related to another drawing request (for example, a wrong tariff classification or a misplaced decimal point).
When a new quantity becomes available in this way, the customs administrations of all Member States are notified and drawing requests are invited. As well as eligible imports not yet the subject of a drawing request, any unsatisfied portion of a drawing request already processed can also be considered. Priority is decided by the usual rule of chronological order of acceptance of customs declarations. Any requests received are accepted and stored but, in the present case, are not processed immediately. In fact, in the present case, the tariff quota is "blocked" so as to give all importers a fair chance to submit requests before the quantity is re-used for the first time.
As a general rule, if the quantity returned is 10% or more of the initial volume of the tariff quota, the block date (i.e. the date the stored requests will be treated when the quota is no longer blocked) is fixed at two weeks from the date when the return was made. Two months is allowed for returns of less than 10% in case there are other returns to that order number, thus giving a larger amount to be shared.