Will Brexit make it harder to buy photo gear from the EU?
January 7, 2021
Now Brexit has finally happened, concern has been expressed that the new trading arrangements could make it more difficult and expensive for photographic dealers to sell equipment to UK-based buyers.
Paul O’Sullivan, for example, has a small business importing Minox specialist cameras and other optical equipment from Germany. “Some photographic shops in Germany and Holland have now stopped supplying to the UK, because of the new VAT rules for EU businesses supplying goods over £135,” Paul observes.
“In short, any EU business who sells anything to a UK-based customer has to pay the VAT proportion directly to HMRC (see the rules in full here). HMRC suggest that you use a customs facilitation agent or you do the paperwork and pay the duty yourself. In effect, EU businesses must register with a tax office using a language they may now speak, using forms they may not understand, to pay tax which they may not get recovered!”
Paul predicts that few EU-based photographic retailers are going to be bothered with the hassle, whereas the larger business to business imports (eg Sony Germany to Sony UK) will have increased costs and paperwork. “For example, I import my Minox items from Minox Germany, and, as there is a small turnover, my business is not VAT registered.
Under this, I wonder if Minox Germany are going to be bothered to supply me with goods. How will this work with used cameras for example?”
He has also noticed that some high-value items on eBay now won’t ship to the UK. “Even some vendors from Japan, for example are now stopping shipments to the UK on eBay.”
To avoid getting tangled up in the new red tape, Paul predicts that businesses will route photographic gear via a non-EU country, so the end-user gets billed directly when the goods are sent to the UK, rather the EU supplier. “But it would come at a much higher price. And what about camera fairs with European sellers (for example, Photographica) and repairs? If a customer sends a camera for repair, there is a tariff code for repairs but how do you levy VAT for that? There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Paul reckons there is a positive side to the new rules, however. “The problem of UK photographic retailers being undercut by EU sellers on eBay and Amazon will go away, as goods will only be supplied through official channels.”
This point was echoed by some bigger retailers we spoke to. “We’ve spoken to most manufacturers that we work closely with, and no issues have come up in regards to the supply of equipment to the UK market,” said Alister Bowie of Ffordes. “To be honest we don’t expect any. We can only hope that Brexit helps the UK photographic market by stemming the flow of cheap discounted grey imported goods from other countries – this is killing the photographic retail sector as we are not able to compete.”
Meanwhile, used specialist MPB has been preparing for the fallout of Brexit for a while. “We opened an EU operation in Berlin in November, which means that we don’t ship any products from the UK to the EU and vice versa,” said a spokesperson. “Our UK and EU operations are now entirely self-contained.” Gray Levett, owner of Nikon specialist Grays of Westminster, added: “I do not anticipate any difficulties in continuing to export goods. VAT is 20% on new goods for UK customers (except Channel islands). Anyone outside the UK buys at the ex-VAT price.”
This is an ongoing story and the new rules have only just come into force, so if you have any relevant experiences or anecdotes to share, do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org