Importing fruit or vegetables

Foodstuffs like fruits and vegetables must be safe for consumers and are therefore subject to food safety requirements. The Netherlands imports large quantities of tomatoes, onions, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables from abroad.

There are many different rules for fruit and vegetable imports, linked in part to whether you import the products from an EU member state or a non-EU country. Non-EU imports will generally mean more work and more responsibilities. This article goes over all the ins and outs of importing fresh fruits and vegetables.

General requirements

The EU has product requirements for fruit and vegetables destined for the European market. Fruit and vegetables are subject to general requirements that apply to all food products. For example, you have to comply with the European General Food Law. This law states that traceability of all food intended for consumption is mandatory at all stages of production, processing and distribution. As an importer, you must know where your fruit or vegetables come from and to whom you have supplied them.

The article on Importing food & beverage products lists the general requirements for all food & beverage products, such as hygiene legislation and the presence of harmful substances.

Specific requirements

The EU has set maximum levels for contaminants and pesticides in fruit and vegetables. If you import fresh fruit and vegetables from non-EU countries, you need a health certificate or phytosanitary certificate from your supplier. This certificate proves that the products are free of harmful organisms (diseases and pests).

The EU has marketing standards (in Dutch) for fruits and vegetables, which consist of quality requirements and sales descriptions. Most fruits and vegetables are required to meet general marketing standards, while specific marketing standards also apply to certain products.

Organic fruit and vegetables

If you import organic fruit or vegetables (in Dutch), you have to meet additional requirements, for example you need to have your company certified. Organic food and beverages from non-EU countries must meet standards equivalent to those applicable to organic foodstuffs produced in the EU.

Learn more

The following authorities provide more information on applicable requirements:

Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI)

CBI helps exporters from developing countries export goods to the European market. Their market information is also useful for Dutch importers, as they have special pages on the European product requirements for:

European Commission

On its Access2Markets portal, the European Commission provides information on import regulations for products imported from outside the EU. On the site, you will find video tutorials and English guidance on how to use Acces2Markets.

NVWA

NVWA’s Online Veterinary Imports tool (in Dutch) will tell you if you are allowed to import certain foodstuffs (including fruit and vegetables) into the EU. It also provides information on additional requirements for foodstuff imports into the EU.

Imports from EU countries

There is free movement of goods in the EU. If you import fruit or vegetables from another member state, you do not have to pay import duties. You do not have to declare the goods to customs either.

VAT

Your supplier in the other EU country will usually charge 0% VAT. But only if you passed on your VAT identification number. If you add Dutch VAT to the purchase and report it in your VAT return, you will be allowed to deduct it as input tax in the same return. Only if you are allowed to deduct VAT.

Documents

If you import fruit or vegetables into the Netherlands from another EU country, you need a waybill (if they are transported by a professional carrier). We also recommend having the shipment accompanied by an invoice and packing slip. If you are looking to import potatoes from Poland, make sure that the goods are free of ring rot (in Dutch).

Imports from non-EU countries

When you import fruit or vegetables from a non-EU country, you have to file an import declaration with Dutch Customs and pay import duties. If you import goods from countries with which the EU has a trade agreement, you may pay lower import duties.

Declaring imports

When you import fruit or vegetables from a non-EU country, you have to file an import declaration with Dutch Customs. Your carrier or customs broker (in Dutch) will usually take care of this on your behalf for a fee, as well as advancing any import duties and VAT that may be due. You will also need an EORI number, a mandatory identification number for anyone dealing with Customs.

Import duties

If you import fruit or vegetables from a non-EU country, you will usually have to pay import duties. Import duty rates are linked to the product’s commodity code (also known as HS code, or TARIC code). Determining the correct commodity code is tricky. The classification depends, for example, on the type of fruit or vegetable, but sometimes also on the period and the condition in which it arrives (e.g. fresh or chilled).

Vegetables have a commodity code starting with 07 and fruit with 08. The complete list of HS codes can be found on the website of the World Customs Organization. If you cannot figure it out yourself, call the Customs Information Line, 0800 01 43.

Country of origin

If you directly import certain fruit or vegetables from countries with which the EU has a trade agreement, you may pay less import duties, provided they were harvested in the treaty country and were shipped straight from the country in question. You can demonstrate that your products meet the rules of preferential origin with a preferential certificate or declaration of origin like a EUR.1 certificate, invoice declaration, or other certificate of origin.

Which certificate or declaration of origin you need depends on the treaty country. Check the HS code to find out if you qualify for tariff preference (reduced import duties) based on the commodity code and production country. If there is a reduction, you can tell by the word 'rate preference' (tariefpreferentie). Employees of the Customs Information Line can also help find import duty rates for your product.

VAT

When you import products into the Netherlands, you pay Dutch import VAT. You are allowed to deduct this VAT as input tax in your VAT return, provided that you are entitled to deduct VAT. Do you regularly import goods from non-EU countries? You can apply for an article 23 permit from the Dutch Tax Administration. Then you avoid having to pay for VAT at the time of import. Instead, you can report the import VAT in your regular VAT return. This will benefit your liquidity.

Documents

Are you importing from a country outside the EU? Then, in addition to the waybill, invoice, packing list, the required import declaration and any preferential certificates of origin, you will often have to deal with additional documents. Such as phytosanitary certificates, conformity control certificates and other certificates.

Phytosanitary certificates

Fresh fruits and vegetables must be healthy and free of harmful organisms. You usually need a phytosanitary certificate to import these products from a non-EU country. Your supplier can request this certificate from the competent authority in their country. Upon entry into the Netherlands, the Dutch Quality Control (Bureau Kwaliteits-Controle-Bureau, KCB) will assess (in Dutch) the documents and, if necessary, conduct a physical inspection (in Dutch) of the products. On the website of the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), you can also find information on document assessment and inspections (in Dutch).

You do not need a phytosanitary certificate if you import fresh fruit or vegetables from Switzerland or Liechtenstein, nor do you need a phytosanitary certificate for coconuts, bananas, pineapples, dates, and durians imported from non-EU countries.

Certificates of conformity

Fruits and vegetables must meet EU quality regulations. There are two different classes of marketing standards (in Dutch): general standards and specific standards. The KCB performs quality controls (in Dutch) on fruit and vegetables imported into the EU. Several non-EU countries have been recognised as having equivalent marketing standard inspections to those of the EU. In these recognised countries, quality control is performed on consignments of fruit and vegetables prior to shipping to the EU. After that the competent authority in the recognised third country issues a certificate of conformity. Fruit or vegetable consignments with a certificate of conformity are less likely to be inspected (in Dutch) in the Netherlands. For a list of recognised third countries, visit the website of KCB (Click ‘erkende landen’ a link on the right, under 'Formulieren & Documenten).

KCB also has a list of fruit and vegetables subject to phytosanitary certificates, inspections, and quality controls. Click on 'Aangifteplichtige Groente En Fruit Import En Export’ under 'Formulieren en Documenten.

Other certificates

In some cases, you need special documents in order to import fruit and vegetables, depending on the country of origin and type of product.

  • Organic fruit and vegetables: you need a Certificate of Inspection for import of products from organic production (COI) for organic produce. The electronic version of this document is called an e-COI. In order to import organic products, they have to be Skal-certified (in Dutch).
  • Import certificates: if you import garlic (in Dutch) or preserved mushrooms (in Dutch), special regulations apply. If you request an import certificate from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, you may qualify for import duty relief under certain conditions.
  • Weight certificates: if import duties are due, you need a weight certificate (in Dutch) to import fresh bananas with commodity code 0803 9010.