UK in EU legal stink over garlic from China

Chinese garlic China is one of the world's top exporters of fresh garlic

Britain is being taken to court by the European Commission in a battle over a £15m unpaid tax bill on imports of Chinese garlic.

The UK mistakenly classified fresh garlic imported from China as frozen, which has a lower tax rate.

The European Commission is demanding compensation for the missing tax and taking legal action to recover it.

The action was branded "vindictive" by Conservative MEP group leader Richard Ashworth.

The mistake was revealed during an inspection by the European Anti-Fraud Office in July 2006. The UK authorities were then asked to to justify why they had issued authorising documents for frozen garlic between 2005 and 2006.

The European Commission said it had begun demanding compensation in January 2008 and launched legal action after the UK's "continued failure" to pay.

'Common interest'

In a statement, the European Commission said: "In failing to collect the correct amount, the UK authorities did not act with all due care.

"The UK authorities, however, have failed to compensate for the missing amount, by claiming that the customs took all necessary actions justified by the case."

The statement said the European Commission was taking legal action "to protect the common EU interest", adding: "Fair treatment of all member states must be ensured - if one member state fails to deliver on its obligation to collect the common resources of the EU budget, the other member states are forced to pay more as a result."

Commenting on the row, Richard Ashworth MEP said: "I'm sorry to say that the aggressive approach of the Commission - over garlic of all things - leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

"In such hard times, when all countries, including ours, are looking to save every bit of money they can just to combat the debt crisis, it defies all sense of proportion to be taking Britain to court over what amounts to a demand for garlic tax.

"Whether or not you care for the aroma of garlic, nobody likes the whiff of vindictiveness."

All customs duties charged on imports of goods coming from a non-EU country are collected by member states on behalf of the EU and paid to the common EU budget as part of each member state's annual contributions.

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