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Optimising Supply Chain Management: Setting up an EU Warehouse

David Stokes
March 28, 2022

In our earlier article, Optimising Supply Chain Management: Key B2B Import Considerations, we looked at the possibility of UK suppliers establishing an EU warehouse to facilitate easier deliveries to customers. In this article, we look at this one solution in more depth – again from the perspective of B2B transactions.

The pros and cons of creating a permanent establishment in the EU

When looking to set up a warehouse facility in the EU, the first consideration should be whether the warehouse will create a permanent establishment (PE) or not. Permanent establishment is a direct tax concept, but creating one can have VAT consequences if that permanent establishment is also considered a fixed establishment.

The OECD defines a permanent establishment as a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on.

The EU defines a fixed establishment as the permanent presence of the human and technical resources necessary to facilitate a supply.

However, the trend towards local warehousing, ‘just in time deliveries’, the gig economy with local contractors and other developments are causing tax authorities to adapt these definitions.

For example, with regards to warehousing, the traditional view is that a taxpayer would need to own or lease a warehouse and employ the staff for it to be considered a fixed establishment for VAT purposes. However, one tax authority has ruled that a fixed establishment can also be created where a warehouse keeper makes a defined area within a warehouse exclusively available to a taxpayer and also provides the warehouse staff.

Creating such a permanent establishment that is also considered to be a fixed establishment will have both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the supplier will be required to charge VAT on local sales involving the fixed establishment, and VAT registration can be used to deduct import VAT paid. Additionally, the supplier may not be required to appoint an indirect customs agent to act as the declarant for imports. On the negative side, the business will incur local VAT on some supplies that would otherwise attract a reverse charge in the UK and may be a liability to direct tax.

As this is a blog on VAT, we will not dwell on the above, but clearly the possible use of a warehouse is one consideration in the supply chain setup.

In deciding whether and where to establish an EU warehouse there are several considerations. For the purposes of this blog, we will first consider a UK supplier looking to set up a warehouse to service customers in Spain.

Spain considers that a third-party warehouse can constitute a permanent establishment where the supplier has exclusive access to a defined area of the warehouse. Therefore it will be important to carefully review the warehouse contract for VAT consequences before signing it.

Reverse charge and import VAT

Spain has a reverse charge for domestic B2B sales. Therefore, a UK supplier importing goods into Spain and making only domestic B2B sales will not be required to charge local VAT. There will also be no requirement to submit a local VAT return, and therefore import VAT will be recovered via the 13th Directive. This will potentially be a significant negative cash flow.

To avoid this, the UK supplier could change where the goods are imported as follows:

When sending the goods to Spain, the import occurs in France. The UK supplier will declare the goods for import into France and then report a transfer of own goods from France to Spain when the goods arrive in the Spanish warehouse. Where the goods are moving by lorry, this should not be too much of an issue.

Since 1 January 2022, France has a compulsory reverse charge for import VAT, and therefore there is no issue with recovering the import VAT paid so long as the conditions are met. The supplier will need a French VAT number to report a dispatch from France and report an acquisition in Spain. The supplier will also require a Spanish VAT number to report acquisitions, but will not be required to submit a VAT declaration since all sales from the Spanish warehouse are under the extended reverse charge.

Alternatively, the goods could be imported into a French warehouse from which the UK supplier can make intra-EU deliveries to its Spanish customers, thereby avoiding the need for a Spanish VAT number and the need for SII reporting should the threshold be breached.

VAT is a transactional tax, and once a transaction has happened, it cannot be undone. Therefore, it is important to fully understand the VAT consequences of a proposed transaction before a contract is signed. Once a contract is signed, the parties are committed to the VAT consequences unless the contract can be renegotiated before the goods are shipped. Once the goods are shipped, the VAT consequence is crystallised and cannot be changed.

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Author

David Stokes

As an FCCA of many years, David brings a commercially focused accounting perspective to the treatment of European VAT issues. He specialises in the understanding of cross-border VAT transactions and has helped many clients map their flows to optimise their VAT position. He has successfully completed the VAT Forum’s ‘Expert in European VAT’ course and is a partner of the forum. As well as advising clients David also sits on several technology product development teams at Sovos.
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