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As thousands of Scots make plans for Easter and summer breaks abroad, SNP MEP Ian Hudghton is issuing a caution to those heading for the sunny shores of the Canary Islands to be aware of what they can and can't bring back as duty free.
The MEP's warning follows recent telephone calls to his office from distressed constituents who, on returning to Scotland from a fortnight in the Gran Canarias, were shocked to discover that they had unwittingly exceeded their allowance and had their goods confiscated.
While the Canary Islands are part of Spain and use the Euro single currency, they are exempted from the EU Directive on customs allowances (92/12/EEC) leading to confusion as to just what tourists can and can't bring back by way of alcohol and tobacco.
Explaining the background to his warning, Mr Hudghton said:
"When Spain joined the EU in 1988, they negotiated an opt-out for the Canaries from Article 2 of Directive 92/12 on "arrangements for products subject to excise duty."
While many tourists are aware of this, some are still being caught out and I suspect that the change over to the single currency may have led to more confusion. While tourists can appeal against the seizure of goods, this is small comfort to perfectly law-abiding citizens who find themselves firstly on the wrong side of Customs officers and secondly being out-of-pocket.
"I genuinely believe that these incidents are occurring because tourists assume, not unreasonably, that because the Canaries are part of Spain, which is part of the EU, they are entitled to being back unlimited quantities of goods for their own consumption. It is however, totally unreasonable to expect ordinary tourists and travellers to be experts in EU law on Customs and excise and this is how they are being caught out.
"What I am concerned to ensure is that there is sufficient clearly visible information available for tourists in the departure areas of the airports in the Gran Canarias. One of my constituents who called my office told me that within the confines of the airport there was no clear information on what you can and cannot bring back with you duty free. They were further surprised that staff in the duty free shop who knew which flight they were travelling on made no comment on what they were buying and their allowances at the point of sale.
"While appreciating that it's not the responsibility of shop assistants to keep tourists right and that they might have missed seeing information notices, they do feel badly let down and are out of pocket into the bargain.
"I have written to the British Consulate in Tenerife alerting them to the problems tourists are encountering and asking them to let me know what information is available at the airports - and how visible it is. In the meantime I can only reissue a caution to those heading off to resorts in the Canaries to be aware that the standard allowance of 200 cigarettes, 1 litre of spirits and 2 litres of wine still applies in these islands."