The goods schedule for the EU’s enlargement in 2004 to 25 members (EU–25) was certified and circulated in December 2016. Details are here.
Hallelujah! My wish may be granted. On May 19, 2020, the British government announced it was getting rid of the Meursing table, “allowing us to scrap thousands of unnecessary tariff variations on products — including over 13,000 tariff variations on products like biscuits, waffles, pizzas, quiches, confectionery, and spreads”.
OK, you’ve been warned. One expert who actually understands this stuff called it the most “horrendous” and “complex” construction in any country’s WTO commitments.
A much simpler comment is here. Full, raw details can be found in this Excel file of the EU’s WTO goods commitments. See the main tariff list for agricultural products (tab 3) and Annex 1 (tabs 5, 6, 7 and 8). The EU does provide an explanation of sorts and an example (tab 5 in the Excel file).
But please note. This is an attempt to explain the EU’s certified WTO commitment, which was written for when it had only 15 member (before it expanded to 25 members in 2004). Commitments for enlargements since then have not been certified so we don’t know what they are.
In the meantime the EU has revised its own regulation and is applying slightly different tariffs on product categories that are defined slightly differently. What is not revised is the complexity.
First, a look at tariff code numbers. For import duties (or tariffs), goods are identified by code numbers organised so that the first digits represent broad categories and additional digits subdivide the products in ever more detail. In lists of tariff rates, products defined by these codes are “tariff lines”.
For example, codes starting 19 are “preparations of cereals, flour, starch or milk; pastrycooks’ products”. Subdivision 1905 is “bread, pastry, cakes, biscuits and other bakers’ wares, whether or not containing cocoa; communion wafers, empty cachets of a kind suitable for pharmaceutical use, sealing”.
(WTO agriculture negotiators have enjoyed discussing the EU’s need for trade barriers on communion wafers.)
Drill down to 19053095 in the EU’s commitment (eight digits) and you get “other” sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers (at this level of detail, other countries may use different definitions and final digits in their code numbers).
Normally, that would be the EU’s most detailed level of subdivision, its “eight-digit tariff lines”.
For “composite agrigoods”, the EU subdivides even further, tacking on four digits (“additional codes”) beginning with 7 (they are of the form 7xxx) to make 12 digits.
Each of those additional four-digit codes represents a “recipe” with specific proportions of four ingredients: milk fat, milk proteins, starch or glucose, or various forms of sugar. There are 504 of them.
In the main list of tariffs (tab 3 of the Excel file) products having these subdivsions are identified by a comment saying “* see annex 1”. There are 27 of these, each subdivided into 504 recipes.
So far so straightforward (seriously). Now it gets really tough.
The EU has decided that composite agrigoods should be charged composite tariffs: part percentage of the price (“ad valorem”) for the product, part euros per 100kg (a “specific” tariff) for its recipe.
Then, those two tariffs should be added together and brought under a ceiling which seems to be a percentage of the price (requiring a calculation to convert the euros per 100kg to percentages).
The EU also decided that there would be more than one ceiling and that the lowest one should apply. So additional ceilings have been devised based on sugar or flour content.
Presumably, the EU would claim that these multiple ceilings were designed to appease other countries who complained that without them the tariffs would be too high.
So, a composite agrigood starts with a two-part tariff consisting of both types of tariff rate.
- At the eight-digit level it has a tariff expressed as a percentage of the price (“ad valorem”)
- The comment referring to annex 1 takes us to the second component, expressed as currency value per quantity, usually euros per 100kg (“specific”)
There are two types of tariff rates to look at in annex 1. The first is a staight tariff expressed as €/100kg. The next is a maximum identified by code AD S/Z (for sugar) or AD F/M (for flour).
First, an example of one “composite agrigood” identified by a “recipe” and how its additional tariff of €110.15/100kg is calculated. “TE” is unexplained but seems to mean the additional tariff.
The EU says in its WTO commitment (tab 5):
For example the TE for additional code 7307 (110.15 EURO/100kg) is thus according to Annex 1.c applicable to a “composite agrigoods” containing :
– 6% or more but less than 9% milk fat,
– 4% or more but less than 15% milk proteins,
– 5% or more but less than 25% of starch/glucose, and
– 30% or more but less than 50% of sucrose/invert sugar/isoglucose.
For this recipe the quantity of basic products considered to have been used in the manufacture of 100 kg of the “composite agrigood” is according to Annex 1.a:
|– 10 kg of skimmed-milk powder||
14.85 EURO/100 kg
|– 32 kg of whole milk powder||
65.21 EURO/100 kg
|– 45 kg of sugar||
23.58 EURO/100 kg
|– 22 kg of common wheat||
3.27 EURO/100 kg
|– 22 kg of maize||
3.23 EURO/100 kg
110.15 EURO/100 kg
Where do those figures for the “quantity of basic products considered to have been used” (my emphasis) come from?
After a bit of searching, they are found in Annex 1a (tab 6 in the Excel file):
- For “6% or more but less than 9% milk fat” and “4% or more but less than 15% milk proteins”, look at row 31. The two cells under columns B and C give 10kg of skimmed milk powder and 32kg of whole milk powder.
- For “5% or more but less than 25% of starch/glucose”, look at row 65. The two cells under columns F and G give 22kg each of common wheat and maize.
- For “30% or more but less than 50% of sucrose/invert sugar/isoglucose”, look at row 60. The cell under column E gives 45kg of sugar.
In other words, the quantities taken from annex 1a are assumptions. The recipe is assumed to contain fixed quantities (kilogrammes) of each ingredient according to which range of percentages each ingredient falls into. From those percentage ranges we get: 10kg of skimmed milk powder, 32kg of whole milk powder, 22kg each of wheat and maize, 45kg of sugar — a total of 121kg of ingredients for a 100kg product (presumably 21kg of water evaporates in the cooking, or I have misunderstood).
This in turn would determine the total additional tariff (TE) that appears in Annex 1b (tab 7) although where those broken down components come from is unclear (page numbers are included in the column headings, with no indication of what is being referenced).
The “specific” tariff of €110.15/100kg in the EU’s example comes from the entry for “7307” in Annex 1b (tab 7), in the column “Base rate of duty”. That is presumably the original duty rate for “7307” before any tariff reductions.
Under a separate column “Bound rate of duty”, the figure is €74.27/100kg. This is now the actual additional “specific” tariff for that “composite agrigood” (after tariff reductions have been made), confirmed on page 701 of this 944-page EU tariff regulation from 2001 (pdf).
So that specific duty of €74.27/100kg is added to the percentage (“ad valorem”) tariff for the broader eight-digit product, in the main tariff list, tab 3, where there is the “*see annex 1” comment.
(But, to add to the complexity, note that the EU’s 2001 regulation uses updated tariff code numbers, which no longer correspond to the older numbers in its current WTO commitment — the one certified in 2010 to account for the EU’s expansion in 1995! The one for “other” sweetened biscuits is retained as 19053095 in that commitment; in its own regulation the code number is broken down into several categories beginning 190531. The update reflects changes in the international codes of the World Customs Organization and the EU’s own “streamlining”.)
Two other columns contain even more tariff rates (“AD S/Z” for some kinds of sugar and “AD F/M” for flour). Those codes also appear as components of the tariff rates for “composite agrigoods” in the EU’s main list of agricultural tariffs (tab 3). They are actually used to set maximums for sugar and flour. How they work is not very clear.
To find an explanation of what they are, we have to go back to the EU tariff regulation (pdf). It says they “[indicate] that the maximum rate of duty consists of an ad valorem duty plus an additional duty for certain forms of sugar or for flour. This additional duty is fixed in accordance with the rules provisions of Annex 1”. (There are further details about whether these are applied in full or not.)
So the tariff charged on a product identified as a “composite agrigood” would have four components:
- the basic tariff (from tab 3 of the Excel file) plus
- the duty for the ingredients (such as for those with code number 7307) OR
- duties in the AD S/Z and AD F/M columns of Annex 1c (tab 8), where applicable — these set maximum rates for sugar (AD S/Z) and flour (AD F/M)
I needed help. So I asked an expert. This (I think) is what I was told:
Take “other” sweet biscuits. As we saw, they have this eight-digit code, 19053095. They have the following entry in the main tariff list under “bound rate of duty” (tab 3):
“9.0%* MAX 24.2% + AD S/Z”.
The 9.0% “ad valorem” duty for the eight-digit product (19053095 = “other” sweet biscuits) is the starting point.
A “specific” (€/100kg) tariff from annex 1 for the 12-digit subdivision then has to be added to it. This is done in two forms and compared. The lower of the two is used.
- First the straight tariff from annex 1 is added. This is the tariff corresponding to the four-digit additional code beginning with 7 (the 7xxx), presumably converted to a percentage. It is represented by the asterisk (* pointing to the note in the “comments” column)
- Then, 24.2% plus the component under the AD S/Z heading in the table is calculated and added instead. (The same applies for the code flour AD F/M if it is also included.)
The two are compared. Whichever is lower, says the expert, is the EU’s commitment for the product as defined by all 12 digits. (A WTO tariff commitment is a maximum tariff. In practice, the EU could charge lower duties without violating its commitment.)
In its commitment, the EU explains what it means by “composite agrigoods” (the ones with “* see annex 1” in the comment column (G) of the main tariff list in tab 3):
These are agricultural goods generally of second and higher transformation obtained by combining primary and/or processed agricultural products.
Why such a complex way of writing out its tariffs? The EU says it cannot list everything separately by tariff line because there are too many (13,608 items). It says:
The quantity of basic products used in the manufacture of the “composite agrigoods” cannot be shown for each tariff line because of their diversity. The quantities of notional basic products in a standard recipe composition are shown in Annex I.a [tab 6 in the Excel file]. The TEs [tariffs] for these “composite agrigoods” are shown in Annex 1.b [tab 7] by reference to an additional code composed of the figure 7, followed by three figures according to the composition of the “composite agrigoods” as shown in Annex 1.c [tab 8]
So now you know. Of course, the EU could have dispensed with such a complicated scheme from the start. But that’s another story.
- Check if the product concerned is one of the 27 having “* see annex 1” as a note in column G of the main list of agricultural tariffs (tab 3 of the Excel file)
- If it is, start with the content of milk fat, milk protein, starch/glucose, and sugar (in various forms)
- Look at Annex 1c (tab 8) to find the corresponding three-digit code number, and add a fourth digit — 7 — in front, to make 7xxx
- Look up the additional “specific” tariff (€/kg) from Annex 1b (tab 7) corresponding to that 7xxx code number. Observe the maximum tariffs for sugar (AD S/Z) and flour (AD F/M) for that code
- Add that to the corresponding “ad valorem” (%) tariff rate from main list (tab 3). (Both components are “bound rates of duty”, meaning they are the maximums that the EU has agreed to charge. It can charge a lower duty without violating the commitment, but not a higher one.)
- If the symbols AD S/Z (sugar) or AD F/M (flour) appear with the tariff for the product at eight-digit level (in tab 3), then they are used to compare with the previous figure and the lowest is the actual bound duy rate (details above).
Please note the “beta” in the blog title. It’s quite likely there are errors in this post. Comments are welcome, in this case particularly corrections, via the contact form
- May 19, 2020: added update on UK scrapping this
- August 20, 2016: text revised slightly to improve clarity. Links added to online calculators for Meursing codes (the 7xxx codes)
Photo credit : Surajith S via pexels.com | Creative Commons CC0
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