In early October, the European Commission launched “Access2Markets”, a web-based portal designed to provide practical information, tips and guidance to companies involved in import and export activities relating to the European Union (EU). This new online portal is set up in response to requests from stakeholders, in particular small and medium enterprises, for simplified and free access to guidance about customs and regulatory conditions for goods entering the EU from third countries, and about the equivalent conditions in third countries for goods originating from the EU.

The Access2Markets portal offers a single information point for useful information relevant to trading activities. It groups together information and guidance previously scattered in separate databases and tools, such as the Market Access Database, Trade Helpdesk, TARIC – EU Customs Tariff, and List rules concerning non-preferential origin. It also simplifies the complex set of EU-relevant import and export rules set out in the network of trade agreements the EU has entered into with over 70 countries and regions over the past 40 years. The new data pool covers a full spectrum of international trade-related topics encompassing information about tariffs (including both nomenclature and explanatory notes used for classification), applicable taxes at both the national and regional levels, rules of preferential and non-preferential origin, product requirements (e.g., labelling and marking), customs procedures and formalities, VAT/excise duties/sales taxes, non-tariff trade barriers in third countries, and trade statistics by individual good and country.

This portal, available in all EU official languages, is designed to facilitate interested parties’ research needs. Users may locate the import and export specifications on duties, taxes, product rules and requirements on a product-by-product and country-by-country basis. Access2Markets also provides step-by-step guidance on importing/exporting goods and services, trade terminology and examples of how certain tariffs will be reduced or eliminated over time, further to trade agreements negotiated with the EU.

One unique feature of the new platform is the origin self-assessment tool, called ROSA. This tool can help importers and exporters understand and apply the rules of origin governing their goods in simple steps. It also allows them to compare product-specific rules under different EU trade agreements. This tool has the commercial advantage of helping companies identify where preferential origin under special trade arrangements might be claimed for goods in order to benefit from lower or zero tariffs.

The EU has provided a tutorial video, but the brief demonstration it contains shows only tip of the iceberg.

While this tool most certainly provides practical benefits to companies in the EU or doing business with the EU by gathering necessary information in one place, it is not a replacement for professional expertise.  Among other things, the new portal does not incorporate guidance on one of the fundamental elements of international trade: the classification of goods according to the Combined Nomenclature in the EU, or other harmonized systems in third countries. Another online tool CLASS – Classification information system, also recently launched by the European Commission, partially fills in the gap.

In addition, timely update of the information provided on Access2Markets, in particular relating to third countries, will be another challenge the European Commission will need to address on an ongoing basis, to ensure the database retains its relevance and reliability.

Despite these caveats, Access2Markets remains a powerful digital tool and will be a crucial information center for both traders and practitioners.