Blümel: "No let-up in the dedication of our customs officers even during the pandemic!" Sitrep on customs operations amid impact of Covid-19

"Even during the pandemic year 2020, Austrian customs officers remain fully committed in their work to protect Austrian citizens and the domestic economy!" affirms Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, expressing his pride at the work undertaken by the Austrian customs administration in 2020. I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to my colleagues for the manner in which not only customs controls, but also customs clearance and the fight against fraud were assured at all times and in which these tasks were performed with the utmost dedication," declares Blümel, underlining the importance of the customs service for both the people of Austria and Austria as a centre of economic activity.

Customs 2020: 302 000 operations and customs controls, EUR 6.73 billion in tax revenues

In 2020, Austria's 1 500 customs officials actioned approximately 302 000 operations and customs controls. In terms of freight transportation alone, they cleared 4 230 036 customs declarations, thereby playing their part in ensuring smooth supply chains.

In 2020, within the framework of mobile controls, Operational Customs Supervision was engaged in 2 055 operations, leading to the identification of 7 317 offences or errors. In the first quarter of 2021, there were 667 such operations, uncovering 2 701 irregularities.

Last year, customs administration auditors undertook 652 audits, generating additional revenues of EUR 12 448 646. In the first quarter of this year, 184 audits have already been undertaken, with additional revenues thereby generated of EUR 4 944 602.

Overall, last year the Austrian customs administration collected around EUR 6.73 billion in tax through its control and supervisory operations. One of the many functions of the customs administration is also to verify and ensure the correct payment of taxes and duties. The largest proportion of revenues in 2020 was attributable to mineral oil tax, at approximately EUR 3.78 billion, followed by tobacco tax, at around EUR 1.99 billion. The customs authorities are also generally responsible for the collection of import VAT; in 2020, these revenues totalled approximately EUR 299 million.

In the first quarter of 2021, the customs administration raised EUR 1.59 billion in taxes, of which EUR 903 533 626 related to mineral oil tax, EUR 527 935 991 to tobacco tax and EUR 12 265 197 to import VAT. As a result of Brexit, the number of customs clearance operations rose by 25 % in the first quarter of 2021; in total, 1 306 319 shipments underwent customs clearance.

 

10 142 156 Covid-19 products intercepted and rejected by customs in 2020

The Austrian customs administration also checks whether products in free circulation within the EU fulfil the high standards existing in the EU in terms of levels of health and safety protection. If the suspicion exists that this is not the case, the customs administration notifies the relevant market regulatory authority, which must then decide whether, and if so, under what conditions, import is permissible, or whether importation cannot be allowed.

In terms of goods intended for importation in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, such controls have generated an impressive set of figures. According to customs controls, in 2020 the import of 2 488 068 non-medical face coverings and 69 685 medical-grade masks and Covid-19 tests was blocked. In the case of a further 4 906 918 non-medical face coverings and 2 677 485 medical-grade masks and Covid-19 tests, the products in question had to be modified in line with applicable product safety requirements before being eligible for importation. In total, therefore, 10 142 156 Covid-19 products were intercepted and rejected by customs in 2020.

A spectacular decline in figures from first to second quarter of 2020

The fact that, from mid March 2020, the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in Europe and Austria was countered using strict lockdowns, is also clear from the relevant statistics. From the first to the second quarter of 2020, revenues from beer duty fell by 49.33 %, and from alcohol duty by 46.26 %. This testifies to the closures in the hospitality and event industries. Mineral oil tax revenues fell by 34.17 % from the first to the second quarter of last year; here too, the restrictions on private and public transport, as well as in trade and industry, are evident. The volume of import VAT collected also fell by 24.92 % as a result of the drastic reduction in travel and cross-border activity during this period. The VAT exemption on the shipment and intra-Community purchase of facemasks also had its effects. On the other hand, revenues from tariffs rose by 7.43 % in the second quarter of 2020, and revenues from tobacco tax indeed climbed by 17.41 %. The travel restrictions imposed in order to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the fact that tobacco stores remained open during lockdown, led to a rise in the sale of legal tobacco goods and a decline in cigarette smuggling.

Dramatic decline in traveller numbers

Customs controls on travellers were naturally particularly hard hit by the first lockdown and the almost complete cessation of international travel. From the first to the second quarter of 2020, the number of travellers fell by 60.73 %, while customs controls fell by 85.83 %. The applications by visitors from third countries or non-EU countries for VAT refunds on purchases made in Austria fell by 95.36 % to 9 074 tax refund applications.

In total, in 2020 the customs administration recorded 19 482 533 travellers at airports and external borders (2019: 46 209 486) and processed 656 325 applications for VAT refunds. In the first quarter of 2021, the figures were 2 456 101 travellers and 9 364 tax refund applications.

"The fact that, for example, last year 75 % fewer air passengers travelled through Vienna Airport than in 2019 naturally also affected customs operations. Although customs officials have faced difficult framework conditions as a result of the pandemic, they have at all times remained in action on behalf of our economy and to ensure our protection and safety," declares Finance Minister Blümel, impressed at the consistently high level of commitment demonstrated by customs officials.