Importing herbs and spices

Herbs and spices often travel thousands of miles before they end up in the kitchen. Spices in particular usually come from countries with tropical or subtropical climates, such as Indonesia and Madagascar. Strict European food safety requirements apply to herbs and spices.

Herbs such as parsley, oregano, sage, lovage, and basil are widely used in the Netherlands. Spices such as pepper, nutmeg, vanilla, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron are also in demand. Do you want to import herbs or spices? First familiarise yourself with all the rules and regulations. For example, you will need to know exactly where your product came from and where it is going. This article explains what you need to look out for. 

Product requirements

All food and beverage products (foodstuffs) are subject to food safety requirements. These are laid down in the European food legislation. An important part of this legislation is traceability throughout the supply chain. You must know where your herbs and spices came from and to whom you supplied them. This ensures you can quickly withdraw unsafe products from the market if necessary. If your products are found to be unsafe, you have a must inform the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). Importers of herbs and spices must be registered with NVWA as a food company.

View the general requirements for all foodstuff imports, such as labelling rules and legislation for novel foodstuffs. These requirements also apply to herbs and spices.

Hygiene requirements

If you produce, process, transport, distribute, or stock herbs or spices, you are required to have a food safety plan. This is set out in the European food and beverage hygiene regulation. This plan should outline how your company ensures that all food and beverages are handled safely and how you comply with HACCP principles. HACCP is short for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points. The HACCP system maps out everything that can go wrong with food and beverages and how you can prevent this.

Food contamination

Herbs and spices may contain pathogens. The maximum acceptable levels for contaminants in food and beverages are set out in an EU Regulation. Any herbs and spices that you place on the European market must comply with this. There are specific rules on toxins such as aflatoxin, and carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Pesticide residues are also subject to maximum levels. You can find more information on the EU pesticide database.

Organic herbs and spices

If you import organic herbs and spices, you have to meet additional requirements. For example, you need to have your company certified. Organic foodstuffs from non-EU countries must meet standards equivalent to those applicable to organic foodstuffs produced in the EU.

Useful agencies and authorities

The following agencies provide information on product requirements and import regulations.

  • Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI).  CBI helps exporters from developing countries export goods to the European market and publishes market information. This information can also be useful for Dutch importers. View the European product requirements for herbs and spices.
  • On the EU Access2Markets portal, you can find information about product requirements and import procedures for herbs and spices. This video explains how to use this system. You need the product name or the HS code of your product. The HS code is a commodity code used by customs to classify products. Many herbs and spices have HS codes beginning with 0709, 0712, 1211, and 0904 through 0910. The Veterinary Imports Online tool (in Dutch) of the NVWA tells you under what conditions you are allowed to import herbs and spices from non-EU countries.

Product liability

Legally speaking, you are considered the producer:

  • If you import herbs or spices from countries outside the EEA, the European Economic Area.
  • If you purchase herbs or spices within the EEA and attach your own label or brand name to them.

If you are a producer, you are liable for damage caused by a defect in your products. You can take out insurance against product liability.

Importing goods from EU countries

There is free movement of goods in the EU. This means that you do not have to pay import duties when importing herbs or spices from another EU member state. You do not have to declare these goods to Dutch Customs. However, they are subject to VAT.

Your supplier in the other EU country will usually charge 0% VAT if you pass on your VAT identification number. Add Dutch VAT to the purchase and report it in your VAT return. You will usually be allowed to deduct it as input tax in the same return. The Dutch VAT rate for herbs and spices intended for human consumption is 9%.

Guide to importing into the Netherlands

Importing a product from abroad involves more work than buying a domestic product. You can make a successful start as an importer if you know enough about the import process. This step-by-step guide will take you from market research to concluding a contract.


Importing goods from non-EU countries

When you import herbs or spices from a non-EU country, you have to file an import declaration with Dutch customs. Your carrier or customs broker will usually file this import declaration 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 when dealing with Dutch Customs.

Import duties

If you import herbs and spices from a country outside the EU, you may have to pay import duties. These are calculated on the customs value. This is the purchase price of your products plus transport and insurance costs up to the EU border or port of entry. 

The amount of import duty depends on the commodity code of the products. Customs classifies goods using these codes. For some products, it can be difficult finding the right code. When importing, you need a 10-digit commodity code, also known as the TARIC code, for every product you import.

For a full overview of commodity codes and the corresponding import duty rates, refer to the Tariff Manual published by Dutch Customs. Many herbs and spices have commodity codes beginning with 0709, 0712, 1211, and 0904 through 0910. For more information about commodity codes and import duties, you can also call the Customs Information Line, 0800 01 43  (in the Netherlands).

Trade agreements and lower import duties

Do you have to pay import duties on your herbs or spices? You may qualify for import duty relief if you import them straight from countries with which the EU has a trade agreement. you may pay lower or no import duties. This is known as tariff preference. To qualify, the herbs and spices have to be of preferential origin, which means they have to be harvested or processed in the treaty country. 

You can demonstrate that your products meet the rules of preferential origin with a preferential certificate or declaration of origin, such as an EUR.1 certificate, invoice declaration, or Certificate of Origin. Which certificate or declaration of origin you need depends on the treaty country.

VAT

When you import goods into the Netherlands, you pay Dutch VAT. You are allowed to deduct this VAT as input tax in your VAT return, provided that you are entitled to deduct VAT. If you regularly import goods, you can apply for an Article 23 permit from the Netherlands Tax Administration to avoid having to pay VAT at the time of import. Instead, you can report the VAT in your regular VAT return, which will benefit your liquidity. The Dutch VAT rate for herbs and spices intended for human consumption is 9%.

Inspection requirement

There is an inspection requirement for various herbs and spices from certain countries outside the EU. This is due to the risk of contamination with fungal toxins such as aflatoxin, pesticide residues, and salmonella, various spices from certain countries outside the EU are subject to import controls. Products subject to these controls may only enter the Netherlands through approved border checkpoints  (in Dutch). The inspections are carried out by the NVWA in collaboration with Dutch Customs. In addition to a check of all documentation, an examination of the products themselves may take place. This means that the NVWA takes samples and does a laboratory analysis. The NVWA charges a fee for this. 

You have to register your shipment in advance by submitting a CHED-D, a Common Health Entry Document for animal feed and foodstuffs of non-animal origin. As well as that, these products must be accompanied by a health certificate and laboratory analysis from the country of dispatch in order to be imported. The foreign exporter - your supplier - should apply for the health certificate from a local inspection authority.

If possible, work with a customs broker or logistics service provider who is familiar with the inspection process and has previous experience with clearing herbs and spices.