Trade preference agreements

What preferences are and how they work


European Union (EU) member states have multiple Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) or Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) in place with third countries and with blocs of countries acting together under bilateral or regional agreements of their own.

In general, agreements enable preferential importing and/or exporting conditions to be placed on goods that meet prescribed rules of origin and other criteria.

FTAs and EPAs are constantly evolving, with countries graduating from one scheme to another, being de-graduated and/or products being removed or added to the list of preferences and/or being restricted under temporary or permanent limits or tariff quotas. As a result, those whose businesses are likely to be affected are advised to keep abreast of developments.

Find more information on EPAs.

The following agreements relate only to goods being imported into the EU:

  • The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) under which the EU - and other developed countries - offer developing countries lower tariffs on their exports into the EU.
  • GSP+ extends even lower tariffs to 15 vulnerable countries that implement certain labour and human rights agreements. For more information, see Generalised System of Preferences and GSP+.
  • Everything But Arms (EBA) gives exports from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) - classified as such by stringent LDC criteria - duty and quota-free access to the EU for most goods, excluding armaments.

To be eligible for preferences under any of these agreements, you must:

  • show that the goods have met prescribed rules of origin
  • produce valid preference documentation
  • ensure the goods satisfy rules about transportation

There are also several EPAs in place between the EU and blocs of countries in certain regions.

Before you attempt to use any preference, the first step is to check the classification codes for your products in the UK Integrated Tariff - these codes contain key information on preferences. Find out more about using the UK integrated Tariff for preferences.

Access the UK Trade Tariff.

Once you have the correct Tariff classification for your goods and their destination, you can complete paperwork to ensure that the right rates of duty are paid. See eligibility for import preferences and eligibility for export preferences.

You should note that trade preferences can be withdrawn once countries reach a given level of development and competitiveness in a specific sector (graduation) or for all products (exclusion). Also, countries may opt to operate under a different agreement.