‘Booze cruisers’ who bring back home cheap alcohol and tobacco from any EU Member State have strict limits to adhere to, the Customs Department has confirmed, although limits look generous enough for would-be brides and grooms planning ahead for their weddings.
A maximum of 90 litres of wine, 60 litres of sparkling wine and a massive 110 litres of beer can be brought into Malta from an EU Member State completely excise-free and at unbeatable prices from countries such as Italy and Cyprus.
Customs director John Mifsud said the allowances for alcohol and tobacco are only for travellers moving from one EU state to another where excise duty has already been paid. If the limits are exceeded however, travellers will have to pay local excise duty on the whole quantity, and under no circumstances will quantities which exceed the stipulated allowance can be considered for personal use.
The UK government was recently dragged before the court by the European Commission over disproportionate penalties on consumers bringing cheap alcohol and cigarettes back from France through the English channel. Under EU law, shoppers are allowed to buy any amount of drink and cigarettes abroad already inclusive of excise duty, and bring it back to their Home State without paying excise duties, as long as it is for private consumption.
With tax rates on alcohol varying all across the European Union, Malta’s tax regime is amongst the highest of all Member States at EUR 23.22 – Lm10 per litre, ranking it sixth across the Union.
No surprises then, that Maltese consumers have turned over to neighbouring Sicily for cheap alcohol, which at a tax rate of EUR 7.31 a litre (Lm3.13) is one of the cheapest in the EU. Cyprus is first in the list of cheap alcohol tax rates at EUR 5.99 per litre (Lm2.39), whilst Sweden remains notorious for its highly priced alcohol, which carries a tax rate of EUR 55.19 per litre (Lm22.07).
Malta’s customs department has however warned that frequent travellers who bring back regular amounts of alcohol, or tobacco, will have to satisfy Customs that the goods are indeed for “personal use,” even backing up such claims with sufficient evidence.
In the case of weddings, where cheap alcohol is frequently brought back from travels abroad to stock up in time for the big day, Customs will consider this to be a valid reason provided that “these are carried by either groom or bride. One such proof requested could be the wedding invitation. Obviously the allowance will still apply,” Customs director John Mifsud told MaltaToday.
EU legislation establishes minimum standards for personal use, to distinguish from those for commercial use. Whilst several Member States have established allowances at a higher level than the minimum, it is up to each of them to establish the minimum level for personal use, provided it is not lower than the established minimum standards.
“Malta considers that for its purposes the minimum indicative standard established in the EU legislation is to be considered for personal use,” Mifsud told MaltaToday. “The reason is very simple. If the limit is exceeded the allowance cannot apply as people would be able to abuse the system and start importing goods for commercial use from another Member State where the excise duty is lower than the rates applicable in Malta. There is another specific system which caters for commercial quantities and where the excise duty and VAT are paid in the Member State where ultimate sale to the consumer takes place.”
Whilst the incentives for travelling to Sicily on a booze cruise are strictly related to lower tax regimes on alcohol, another confirmation of Maltese consumers preferring to buy alcohol through their own personal channels are the figures of decreasing volumes of alcohol entering Malta every year, most notably those for whisky and bourbons.
Between 1999 and 2003, imports of whisky decreased by 13.5 per cent, a total reduction of 98,956 litres from 1999. With that comes a maximum limit of 10 litres for the importation of spirits for personal use.
In the UK, the treasury said it was losing GBP 3 billion in lost excise duty revenue because of consumers crossing the English channel over to France, which has a much lower tax rate on alcohol and spirits.