Bristol Chamber helps British robots go to war in China

Bethan Rice
Assistant Manager, International Trade Services | Business West
26th September 2017

Here in the Export Documentation department at Bristol Chamber of Commerce we come across many weird and wonderful exports. We see palm trees shipped to the UAE, sand sent to the Arab states, Viagra to China and fish and chips to Russia, among many others. Artificial limbs are also a favourite with exporters. Although we can never say our job isn’t varied, sometimes the checking process takes over and we miss taking note of certain products that are unusual.

Last month, I had a telephone enquiry about raising a certificate of origin – the ‘usual’ so to speak. After chatting through the process with the customer, I asked what sort of goods he was shipping. He asked if I had ever seen the program ‘Robot Wars’ which, of course, I replied I had (Who hasn’t?!). As it turns out, Robot Wars is still all the rage in China – so much so that they had asked many of the manufacturers in the UK to send their beloved robots over to compete in competitions.

This may sound straight forward – ship the robot, have it compete, ship it back. Unfortunately for the manufacturers, who are mostly either individuals or schools, import duties are applied to any goods shipping into China, and again when re-entering the UK. Using an ATA Carnet for temporary export is not an option, as under the Carnet regulations, the goods shipped out must return in the same condition, which cannot be said for robots that are likely to be reimported in hundreds of small pieces dependant on how the competition went.

The best option for the customer was to raise a certificate of origin; enabling customs to apply the correct tariffs, and ensure he kept his ‘customs paid’ receipt at both ends. Once the robot is cleared back into the UK, he can potentially claim back all, if not part, of the duty paid to Chinese customs.

So that’s exactly what we did – we guided him (the exporter, not the robot) through our online system, had him raise an invoice for customs purposes only, and sent him happily on his way. So happily, in fact, that he gave our contact details to all the other robot owners who then used us in the coming weeks for the same export documentation. 

So next time you see a re-run of ‘Robot Wars’, remember that those big beasts may well have been all the way to China and back, and have lived to tell the tale!

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