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Market Access Procedures

The information in this section is subject to change and regular updating during the UK's post-Brexit transition period. We will publish the updated information as soon as it becomes available.

Customs Procedures

Import Procedures
The Brexitguidance ended on 31 December 2020 and new rules applying for businesses and citizens in the EU and the UK came into force on 1 January 2021. Since 1 January 2021, businesses in England, Wales and Scotland must make customs declarations when importing goods from the EU, as well as checking that they have the appropriate import licences and certificates and finally obtain an EORI number to move goods between the EU and UK.

Since 1 January 2021, the UK applies the Guidance on tariffs on goods imported into the UK , which replaces the EU’s Common External Tariff. For more information about the tariffs applied to imports coming into the UK since 1 January 2021, please visit the UK government's website.

For an overview of the impact that the UK’s withdrawal from the Single Market and EU Customs Union will have in the areas of taxation and customs, consult the UK government's dedicated guidance Import, export and customs for businesses: detailed information. For further details on actions required from businesses to continue importing from EU countries, please visit the UK government platform as well as the European Commission's guidance EU-UK: A new relationship including sectorial guidance notices for different sectors and the guide ‘BREXIT Readiness Checklist’ for companies doing business with the UK. For guidance on moving goods into, out of, or through Northern Ireland, click here.

Specific Import Procedures
Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP) are electronic declaration methods designed to enhance and simplify customs procedures for clearing imported goods either at the border or upon removal from a free zone or customs warehouse. A limited range of goods requires import licenses. These include firearms and explosives, nuclear materials, controlled drugs and certain items of military equipment. Products imported temporarily (for re-export, examination and testing, repair, sample display, etc.) may be admitted without payment of duties and taxes.
Importing Samples
It is possible to import goods deemed to be of negligible value, such as commercial samples, free of duty and VAT. For further information visit the HM Revenue and Customs page on VAT and duties exemptions.

To go further, check out our service Import Controls and Export Controls.


Customs Duties and Taxes on Imports

Customs threshold (from which tariffs are required)
Customs duty (and import VAT) is payable when the value of the imported goods is over GBP 135. For more information, click here.  
Average Customs Duty (Excluding Agricultural Products)
From 1 January 2021, the UK will apply a UK-specific tariff to imported goods.  This UK Global Tariff (UKGT) will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff, which applies until 31 December 2020.
Use the UK Global Tariff tool to check the tariffs that will apply to goods you import from 1 January 2021. The existing commodity code system will continue to apply from 1 January 2021 onwards.

More detailed Customs tariffs can be found at this government website.
Products Having a Higher Customs Tariff
The government will publish further advice on tariff-rate quotas later in 2020. This will be based on the quotas in the UK goods schedule at the World Trade Organization, published in draft in 2018.
Preferential Rates
Granted to imports from countries with which the European Union has signed trade agreements (subject to change at the end of the transition period on 1st January 2021, following the UK's withdrawal from the EU). For the up-to-date guidance on reduced customs duty for goods, check the dedicated UK government website.
Customs Classification
The UK HS  Tariff Code helps to find commodity names with codes for exporting and importing  goods. In order to find a HS code, it is possible to use the Trade Tariff tool, which will show you the import and export codes, and any information connected to the code, such as: if you need a license to move your goods or if there’s a tariff quota.
Method of Calculation of Duties
Customs duties are calculated Ad valorem on the CIF value of the goods. We recommend that you constantly monitor the government website dedicated to the calculation of tariffs and customs duties
Method of Payment of Customs Duties
Duties are payable in cash (in Euros, by check, by cash money order, by bank transfer); an extension of the time limit for payment may be granted through systems of collection credit or duty credit.
Import Taxes (Excluding Consumer Taxes)
Excise Duty may apply on alcohol and tobacco. For more information, click here. 

List of tariffs and local taxes that apply to your product on our service Customs Duties and Local Taxes.


Labeling and Packaging Rules

It must conform to European legislation on the prevention of health risks to consumers and the protection of the environment, especially as regards waste treatment. Packaging in wood or vegetable matter must be subjected to a phytosanitary inspection. For further information, consult the summary of the European legislation on this topic.
Starting January 31st 2020, the date of the UK's departure from the EU, the UK will no more incorporate new EU legislation into its national regulation. For the detail on possible future changes regarding certificates, authorisations, markings or labelling taking effect from 1 January 2021 following the UK's withdrawal from the EU and the end of the transition period please consult the European Commission's ‘BREXIT READINESS CHECKLIST’ FOR COMPANIES DOING BUSINESS WITH THE UK.
Languages Permitted on Packaging and Labeling
The use of language on labels has been the subject of a Commission Communication, which encourages multilingual information, while preserving the right of member states to require the use of the language of the country of consumption. Thus the use of a foreign language is allowed, as long as an English translation is provided.
Unit of Measurement
All labels require metric units although dual labelling is also acceptable. The EU has also mandated that certain products be sold in standardized quantities. Starting January 31st 2020, the date of the UK's departure from the EU, the UK will no more incorporate new EU legislation into its national regulation.
Mark of Origin "Made In"
In the UK, it is compulsory to indicate the origin of a product.
Labeling Requirements
Origin, weight and dimension, chemical composition and appropriate hazard warnings are required for consumer protection purposes on any product offered for retail sale. If the product cannot be labeled or marked, the data may be included on any packaging, accompanying printed material, or product literature. European and British clothing and shoe sizes are differently marked, and special provision may have to be made for apparel retail labelling. Dual labelling is strongly supported by the UK .
Specific Regulations
Council Directive 80/232/EC provides permissible ranges of nominal quantities, container capacities and volumes for a variety of products such as certain foodstuffs, cleaning products, pet foods, solvents and cosmetics. Starting January 31st 2020, the date of the UK's departure from the EU, the UK will no more incorporate new EU legislation into its national regulation. Starting January 31st 2020, the date of the UK's departure from the EU, the UK will no more incorporate new EU legislation into its national regulation. For the detail on possible future changes regarding certificates, authorisations, markings or labelling taking effect from 1 January 2021 following the UK's withdrawal from the EU and the end of the transition period please consult the European Commission's ‘BREXIT READINESS CHECKLIST’ FOR COMPANIES DOING BUSINESS WITH THE UK.

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Distributing a Product


Distribution Network

Types of Outlet

Department stores
Clothing, cosmetics, jewellery, food
Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Harrod's
Supermarkets and hypermarkets
Food supermarkets and specialized department stores – Some opened 24/7 Monday morning to Sunday 4pm.
Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose
Convenience stores
General food, drink and everyday products
Budgens, Tesco Metro/Express, Sainsbury Local
Discount stores
Miscellaneous goods offered at an attractive price (opportunistic purchases)
Aldi, Netto
Home centres
Gardening, decoration, products for the home
B&Q, Homebase, Currys
General food and everyday items, plus pharmacy, travel, financial services, funeral services etc.
Drug stores
Cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals

Evolution of the Retail Sector

Growth and Regulation

According to the Office for National Statistics, retail sales volumes fell by 1.4% in March 2022, following a fall of 0.5% in February, but were 2.2% above their pre-coronavirus February 2020 levels. Retail sales values fell by 0.2% in March 2022, following a rise of 0.4% in February, but were 10.1% above their pre-coronavirus February 2020 levels. The largest contribution to the fall came from non-store retailing in which sales volumes fell by 7.9%. The proportion of retail sales online fell to 26.0% in March 2022, its lowest proportion since February 2020 (22.7%). Food store sales volumes fell by 1.1% over the month to March 2022 and have fallen each month since November 2021.

According to the figures provided by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the UK grocery market was valued at $297 billion (£205 billion) in August 2020. This is an increase of 6.7% on 2019. Groceries account for 11% of total household spending in the UK, making it the third largest area of expenditure, following housing and transport. Food and grocery sales account for more than 40% of total UK retail sales (Retail Economics, 2020). There are more than 87,000 grocery stores in the UK. These are split into four sectors:

  • Supermarkets: Four supermarket chains dominate UK food retailing, accounting for 66% of the market.
  • Discounters: In the 12 weeks ending April 17, 2022, the discounters combined market share reached 13.4 percent of the British grocery market.
  • Internet or Online Shopping - The value of the UK online grocery market has seen tremendous growth in recent years and in 2019 was valued at $15.2 billion (£12.7 billion).
  • Click and Collect - With the increasing popularity of online retailing, supermarkets and other retailers introduced Click and Collect which has become hugely popular and is rapidly growing. Click-and-Collect is a concept, that brings together the benefits of online retailing with the advantages of maintaining a store-based retailing presence.
  • Convenience stores: the UK’s convenience store market is highly fragmented, with a large number of retail operators. It can be divided into : Co-operative stores, Gas stations, Convenience outlets  at supermarkets, Non-affiliated independent, Traditional convenience store.
Market share

Grocery sales in the UK are dominated by Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda/ Wal-Mart and Morrison's. These four trademarks had a combined market share of 66% of the UK grocery market, divided as followed (Kantar World Panel, April 2022):

  • Tesco - 27.3% market share
  • Sainsbury's - 15% market share
  • Asda/ Wal-mart - 14.1% market share
  • Morrison's - 9.5% market share
  • Aldi - 8.8% market share
  • Lidl - 6.6% market share
Retail Sector Organisations
British Retail Consortium
Institute of Grocery Distribution


Internet access
According to the British Office for National Statistics, in 2017 90% of households in Great Britain had internet access, with the highest levels of connectivity being in London and the southeast of England, both at 94%. Household internet access has been growing in the UK, and since 2006 it has grown by 32%, with increases across all regions and countries. The largest rise was in Scotland, increasing from 48% in 2006 to 90% in 2017. As of 2018, 90% of adults in the UK were internet users, a slight growth of 1% from the previous year. However, out of the 10% of adults who aren't internet users, 8.4% of them have never used the internet (and more than half were aged 75 or older). When it comes to age, the internet is most used by younger generations. Almost every person (99%) aged between 16 and 34 were internet users in 2018. However, that percentage drops to 44% for people aged 75 years and over. In 2017, 78% of adults aged 16 to 75 and older used the internet away from home or work. In terms of how people access the internet, 73% of them do so using a mobile phone or smartphone, a number that has more than doubled since 2011, when that rate was 36%. The second most popular devices are laptops and tablets (43%), followed by other handheld devices (such as MP3 or e-book readers) used by 14% of people. The most popular internet activity in the UK in 2017 was emailing (82%), followed by finding information about goods and services (71%), and reading online news, newspapers or magazines (64% -  a figure that has tripled in a decade). Internet banking is also a popular internet activity, and it rose by 33% since 2007, reaching 63% of adults in 2017. As of July 2018, the most popular search engines in the UK were Google (82.85%), followed by Bing (12.1%), Yahoo! (2.53%), MSN (1.57%) and DuckDuckGo (0.57%).
E-commerce market
According to the Office for National Statistics, online shopping has been constantly growing in the UK. The British e-commerce market is by far the biggest in Europe. With a total value of US$ 207 billion, it is worth almost twice as much the second biggest market, France (US$ 108 billion). In 2017, B2C e-commerce turnover in the UK was GBP 13.7 billion (US$ 17.6 billion). That represented a 13.65% increase from the previous year, and a growth rate of 14.3% is predicted for 2018, which means e-commerce in the UK could be worth US$ 20.6 billion by the end of 2018. Almost half of online consumers in the UK use their mobile phone or tablet to search for products and then use their desktop to place the order. However, almost 59% of digital buyers in the UK made online purchases using their smartphone in 2017.
Social media
Social media is a common part of everyday life in the United Kingdom. According to Statista, at the beginning of 2018 there were 44 million active social media users in the UK, which represents a penetration rate of almost 65%. As of July 2018, the leading social media platforms in the United Kingdom ranked by market share were Facebook (63.76%), followed by Twitter (14.89%), Pinterest (10.38%), YouTube (3.96%), Instagram (3.23%), Tumblr (1.81%), reddit (0.69%) and LinkedIn (0.67%). Facebook has been the most popular social network in the UK throughout recent years. It is particularly popular among those aged between 25-34, of which 5.6 million women and 5.6 million men were using the social media platform in January 2018. The total number of Facebook users in 2018 was 32 million (and is expected to rise to about 41 million by 2021), making it the largest platform by far, followed by Twitter (with 20 million users), YouTube (19.1 million), LinkedIn (19 million), Instagram (14 million), Snapchat (13.6 million), Google+ (12.6 million), Pinterest (10.3 million), Tumblr (9 million) and reddit (6.6 million). With a growing number of social media users, businesses are focusing more on those platforms to market their products and services. The most popular social networks for businesses are Facebook (which is favoured due to the high number of users), followed by YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.

Direct Selling

Evolution of the Sector
The World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) 2017 report shows retail direct selling in the United Kingdom grew 1%, was valued at USD 3.698 billion, and involved 550,000 independent representatives (80% of which were female in the UK according to SELDIA). Another 2017 WFDSA report divides retail sales as follows: wellness (43%); cosmetics and personal care (28%); clothing and accessories (16%); book, toys, stationery, etc. (8%); and household goods and durables (3%).

Euromonitor International notes traditional direct selling companies are struggling due to internet retailing and their old-fashioned image. Avon remains the leading direct selling company with 160,000 independent representatives, although it has seen steady declines in sales; to counteract this, Avon launched My Avon Online Stores and optimised mobile sites. Apparel and footwear direct selling companies are also facing greater competition from companies such as Primark and H&M in both price and fashion trends. Person-to-person remain the most important direct sales channel but is quickly being replaced by party plan sales.

The Direct Selling Association UK, SELDIA and Direct Selling Europe promote best practices in the industry.

Using a Commercial Agent

The Advantages
For small to medium companies, partnering with an experienced and established local distributor is an advisable entry strategy. Regardless of the size of the company, however, market knowledge is essential and cultural specifics important.Distributors position products and brands in the market through advertising and promotion and assist with after-sales service, which is increasingly important for British customers. The criteria for using or not a commercial agent will be linked to the degree of risk that the company wants to take on, which in itself will determine how much control can be derived.
Where to Be Vigilant
National laws governing the relationships between agent and principal, and between distributor and supplier, are broadly harmonized within the EU, where Directives establish the rights and obligations of the parties. In the case of EU agents and their non-EU principals, should the agreement fail, the law will generally favor the agent, who is in any case entitled to a compensation. It is therefore advisable to have any potential agreements checked by a lawyer.
Starting January 31st 2020, the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, the country will no more incorporate new EU legislation into its national law.
Elements of Motivation
Agents are remunerated by way of a commission, whereas a distributor will apply a margin when selling goods. The agent's commission will generally be lower than the distributor's margin.
The Average Amount of Commission
The British Agents register publishes a guide to Agency Agreements and Contracts, see British Agent Register website. 
Breach of Contract
The British Agents register publishes a guide to Agency Agreements and Contracts, see British Agent Register website.
Finding a Commercial Agent
Agent Base (The UK Sales Agent Register)

Setting Up a Commercial Unit

The Advantages
Setting up a commercial unit in the UK shows commitment to the market. A permanent presence also allows for greater understanding of the country's culture, consumption habits of the market targeted, competitors' strategies and better acceptability of the offer.
Where to Be Vigilant
Setting up can be expensive and risky if the market has not yet been established.
Different Possible Forms of Settlement
  • A Representative Office
A representative office is appropriate when there is no local representative, or if the activities of the UK company supplement the parent company's (i.e. a warehouse to store goods distributed by UK distributors). A representative office must be registered with Companies House.
  • A Branch Office
Setting up a branch is only pertinent if business is being conducted from the UK or if a local representative has been nominated by the parent company. A branch does not constitute a separate legal entity and all its activities are carried out for and on behalf of the parent company. It cannot exist alongside a representative office. A branch office must be registered with Companies House and produce yearly a set of statutory documents.
  • A Company
In 2015, there are more than 3,394,000 registered companies in the UK, where it is a straightforward process to establish a company. Setting up a local company will generally be of the Limited type. Despite requiring more time and expense, it can offer better protection for proprietary information, easier access to credit and more effective market penetration.


Evolution of the Sector
According to the 2018 bfa NatWest Franchise Survey (latest data available), the Franchise Industry contributes £17.2 Billion to the UK GDP - an increase of nearly 50% over the past 10 years. The total number of people employed within franchising has now reached 710,000. There are now 48,600 franchise units in the United Kingdom, a rise of 10% from 2015. There are also 935 business format franchise systems, around double of what there were 20 years ago. 93% of franchisees report being profitable and less than 1% of franchisors close each year due to business failure. Over half of franchisees are now declaring an average turnover that exceeds £250,000. 80% of franchised brands are UK-owned and developed.

Other than the general laws of England, Wales and Scotland, there are currently no franchise-specific laws.
Franchisors are subject to the laws relating to fraud and the Misrepresentation Act 1967 when selling franchises, but there is no obligation to issue a formal pre-contract disclosure document to potential franchisees.
There are no laws that confer compensation rights on expired or non-renewed franchising, distribution or agency agreements (except in the latter case under the Commercial Agents (Council Directive) Regulations 1993 (implementing Directive 86/653/EEC on self-employed commercial agents, and relating only to the sale of products by a commercial agent).
Some Big Franchises
Autosmart (en anglais), Vehicle cleaning products
Driver Hire
Oscar, Pet Foods
Pirtek, Fluid transfer
Prontaprint, Printing
Rosemary Conley, Taxassist Accountants
Taxassist Accountants
For Further Information
British Franchise Association
, Ministry for Trade and Investment

Finding Assistance

Export Trading Companies
Institute of Export

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Latest Update: April 2024