The customs union is an essential element of the EU single market with its four basic freedoms: free movement of goods, persons, services and capital.
It can trace its history back to 1958, when the first six member states came together to form a group which later developed into the EU. One of the first steps was the establishment of a customs union: all customs duties and trade barriers between the six founding members were abolished, and a collective customs tariff was introduced vis-à-vis third party countries.
Over time, the essential regulations which went beyond a simple customs tariff union developed into customs law. This ensured that goods imported into the community were subject not just to the same customs tariff, but also to identical statutory customs regulations. For example, the collective country of origin rules, bonded warehouse rules and all the other instruments were gradually established. A key moment was the standard document introduced in 1988 to simplify customs procedures. New trading regulations introduced at the same time turned the simple customs tariff union into a real customs union.
In 1994, all European customs regulations were brought together in a single legal instrument, the Customs Code. This forms the legal framework for the import and export activities of the European Union. A Union Customs Code (UCC) is set to come into force as soon as the necessary implementation provisions have been resolved and become applicable; however, this may be delayed for several years. More information about the UCC can be found on the website of the European Commission: ec.europa.eu