Trading in fruit, vegetables and plant products
EU marketing standards for importing and exporting fruit, vegetables or products derived from plants
Within the European Union (EU), many horticultural products - including fruit, vegetables and products of plant origin are regulated or controlled by the European Commission (EC). These may be subject to EC marketing standards that provide consumers with guarantees of quality and consistency, or to phytosanitary restrictions to prevent the import of pests and diseases.
This guide shows you how to fulfil your legal responsibilities to meet EC marketing standards when you import or export fruit, vegetables or salads.
For more detailed information on this sector, see food and agriculture.
Understanding EC marketing standards for fruit, vegetables and plant products
Across the European Union (EU), the import, sale and marketing of most fruit and vegetables is regulated by European Commission (EC) marketing standards designed to ensure that produce is sound, clean, correctly labelled, of marketable quality and - for some specific commodities - achieves a quality class. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) manages these standards in Northern Ireland.
Most products are covered by a General Marketing Standard (General MS) and some are covered by Specific Marketing Standards (Specific MS).
Ten Specific MS cover apples, pears, peaches and nectarines, kiwi fruit, grapes, sweet peppers, lettuce (including batavia and endive), citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, mandarins, satsumas, clementines and hybrids) strawberries and tomatoes.
The General MS covers most other commodities with some exceptions.
Working with the standards
If your goods are subject to EC marketing standards and you want to import them into or export them from the UK or any other EU member state, the produce must be quality graded according to either a Specific MS or the General MS. Your produce must be free from rot and disease, clean, pest-free and undamaged by pests, and in an adequate state of maturity.
You must also clearly label your packaging with the information required under the Specific MS or General MS applicable to your goods. This could include country of origin, details of the packer, variety/type, size, weight, and quality class. Find out more about quality and labelling requirements.
To import produce with Specific MS, you will need to obtain a certificate of conformity through the Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates (PEACH) system in order to import the goods.
You will need a Certificate of Conformity for these products:
- fruits - apples, citrus fruit (oranges, mandarins, satsumas, clementines and hybrids and lemons) kiwi fruit, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries and table grapes
- vegetables and salads - lettuces, curly and broad-leaved endives, sweet peppers and tomatoes
You do not generally need a certificate of conformity to import produce subject to General MS, however spot check inspections for compliance will be made at points of entry.
Tax and duty considerations
You should also check the Tariff when importing and exporting fruit, vegetables and plants that are covered by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This trade scheme ensures EU produce is available and fairly priced by raising or dropping duties where required.
There are several ways to work out the value of your imports for the purposes of paying tax and duty on consignments. If you have not already set a price with your seller, you may be able to use simplified procedure values (SPVs), prices set regularly by the EU. Another type of valuation, standard import values (SIVs), sets a daily standard price per 100 kilograms net of produce. Read more about other methods of calculating import value.
Your goods may also be subject to other duties including seasonal duties that can change at short notice. Read more about tariffs and duties in the food and drink sector. You can also contact the HMRC VAT Helpline on Tel 0300 200 3700.
Understanding certification and inspection of fruit, vegetables and plant products
The certification and authorisation requirements for importing and exporting fresh fruit and vegetables depend on the type of products you're trading, their origin and destination. These are managed by the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate, Rural Payments Agency (RPA). Read more about the specific requirements for fruit and vegetables covered by European Commission (EC) marketing standards.
To import fruit and vegetables subject to the Specific EC Marketing Standard (Specific MS) or to export them (outside the European Union), you must obtain a Certificate of Conformity. These certificates show that a consignment meets the quality and labelling standards set by the Specific MS. You do not generally need a Certificate of Conformity to import produce subject to the General EC Marketing Standards. Products coming under the General Marketing Standard will be subject to a low level random spot check by the RPA to assess if such products meet the quality and labelling requirements. In these instances you will be notified that your product has been randomly selected and you will be required to enter details of the produce on the RPA Inspectorate online Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates (PEACH) system. HMRC clearance will be withheld until a PEACH entry has been made, the produce inspected and a release (certificate of conformity) issued by the RPA.
You will always need a Certificate of Conformity for the following products:
- fruits - apples, citrus fruit (oranges, mandarins, satsumas, clementines and hybrids and lemons), kiwi fruit, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, and table grapes
- vegetables and salads - lettuces (including batavia and curly and broad-leaved endives), sweet peppers and tomatoes
Once a Certificate of Conformity has been issued, goods can move through customs into free circulation. If you don't obtain a Certificate of Conformity your goods won't be released. The certificates are available using PEACH.
Certain countries including South Africa, Morocco, India, Israel, Kenya, Senegal, Turkey and Switzerland have been certified by the EU as having an Approved Inspection Service (AIS). This means they can produce their own Conformity Certificates that will be accepted as proof of conformity with the marketing standards. These certificates are accepted by the RPA and HM Revenue & Customs instead of UK-produced certificates.
The RPA carries out random audits of lots from AIS countries to ensure compliance and to check that a Certificate of Conformity is present and valid at the time of import. Traders must therefore keep the certificates and note the PEACH application number. See our guide on archiving your trade documents for further information.
Traders can obtain phytosanitary release and conformity certificates online in a one-step process in conjunction with their import declarations using the Automatic Licence Verification System (ALVS).
If you're in England or Wales, you must pre-notify the RPA of any pending consignment through PEACH.
Different rules apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although Scottish and Northern Irish businesses can use PEACH if their goods arrive at English or Welsh ports.
Importers from Northern Ireland should contact the DAERA Helpline on Tel 0300 200 7850.
When you apply for a certificate, a conformity check will take place either with a physical inspection or a conformity check based on a risk analysis of your application using the Import Risk Assessment System (IRAS). You can see the risk assessment criteria.
Once an application has been received it will be risk assessed and a certificate issued ('green balled' on PEACH) or selected for inspection ('red balled' on PEACH) when you will be contacted by the Inspectorate to arrange an inspection at the point of entry (port, airport or CFSP premises).
If your consignment fails inspection the RPA Inspectorate will ask you to tell them how you intend to bring your goods into conformity. You will be required to enter this information into the PEACH system.
Once the goods have been brought into conformity, they will be re-inspected by the RPA Inspectorate and a Certificate of Conformity issued by the inspector. To find out more about risk analysis and inspections see the page in this guide on approval and testing for horticultural goods.
When importing, Certificates of Conformity or their equivalents issued in specific countries (AIS) are recognised by customs authorities across the EU and will allow your goods to clear.
You may also need a quarantine release certificate if your goods are plant health controlled.
Approval and testing for horticultural goods
Many horticultural goods need to be inspected and approved before they can qualify for a Certificate of Conformity and then released into free circulation. The process depends on your type of goods and their destination. It's carried out through the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) Inspectorate Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates (PEACH).
Inspection and approval for goods imported or exported under PEACH
Whether your goods will be inspected before they're granted a Certificate of Conformity depends on how the RPA Inspectorate grades them in the Import Risk Assessment System (IRAS).
There are three levels:
- red - indicates high risk and all consignments are checked where possible
- amber - indicates medium risk and inspection is at the discretion of an inspector
- green - indicates low risk and no inspection is usually necessary
You can see the risk assessment criteria.
Inspections are usually carried out at the point of entry. However, if you're importing under Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP), you can use its Local Clearance Procedure and the inspection can be carried out at your premises.
If your goods pass the inspection, a Certificate of Conformity is issued and they can clear customs. If your goods are regulated by EC marketing standards and also by plant health controls HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will require a quarantine release certificate (QRC), issued following completion of plant health inspection formalities, to release consignments into free circulation. Agents or traders can print the QRC from the PEACH system.
Access the notification application form HCG5.
Many consignments fail because they're incorrectly packaged and labelled. You can find out about labels in our guide on food labelling and packaging in international trade. You can save time and money by ensuring these elements are in order before your products are shipped to the port. In some circumstances, failed products are destroyed. You'll also have to pay any costs associated with destruction.
Phytosanitary approval and testing
Plants and plant products imported from non-European Union (EU) countries under a Phytosanitary certificate will be inspected by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) Plant Health when they enter the UK or at the earliest opportunity afterwards.
Once the consignment arrives under customs control, you must apply to HM Revenue & Customs for authority to move the goods to an approved storage area for inspection, such as a temporary warehouse. You must keep the goods there until they have been inspected. You must also present the Phytosanitary certificate to inspectors within three days of the goods' arrival. You'll have to pay the costs of inspection.
If you're moving goods between EU member states, spot checks may be carried out at any part of the supply chain. However, most plant and plant products can move freely.
Inspections for exported plants and plant products
If you're exporting plants or plant products to countries outside the EU, you must find out what the import requirements in that country are before shipping your goods. This will significantly reduce the risk of your goods being detained by customs in their destination country. Fera Plant Health offer a range of services designed to help businesses export outside the EU.