“Reasonable care is an explicit responsibility on the part of the importer.”
Import Compliance has been a hot topic for U.S. Customs, and for importers, since 1993 when Congress passed the Customs Modernization and Informed Compliance Act (The Mod Act).
The passage of the Mod Act intensified discussion of import compliance by fundamentally altering the relationship between CBP and importers by shifting to the importer from CPB the legal responsibility for declaring the value, classification, and rate of duty applicable to entered merchandise, and for maintaining compliance with import laws and regulations.
Determination of the relevant import controls for imported products is a key component of any import compliance program because it sets the stage as to what and how much U.S. importers can import (import prohibitions and import restrictions) and as to whether or not U.S. importers must deal with any specific product requirements or any country of origin marking requirements in importing products. It is also important in that it will safeguard U.S. importers from the imposition of monetary fines and penalties.
U.S. import controls arise from concerns related to the U.S. economy, the preservation of domestic plant and animal life, consumer health and consumer well-being. Consequently, as concern over these matters shifts, import controls will likely be subjected to change.
Penalties for Violations
Failure to comply with any of the relevant import laws and regulations can result in heavy fines ranging in the millions and other significant civil and criminal penalties, including revocation of the company’s import privileges and/or potential seizure of imported merchandise. Individuals found to be in violation of these laws and regulations can be fined or face imprisonment.
Import restrictions limit the entry of certain products into the U.S. and are based primarily on country of origin and product type. Restrictions may be imposed by U.S. Customs, by another U.S. agency which has regulatory authority over a particular product, or by a State government into which the goods will be transported or are consigned. Restrictions include:
- Import Quotas: Import quotas control the amount or volume of various commodities that can be imported into the United States during a specified period of time. United States import quotas may be divided into two main types: absolute and tariff-rate. Absolute quotas usually apply to textiles and strictly limit the quantity of goods that may enter the commerce of the United States during a specific period. Currently there are no commodities subject to absolute quota restrictions. Tariff-rate quotas permit a specified quantity of imported merchandise to be entered at a reduced rate of duty during the quota period. Once a quota has been reached, goods may still be entered, but at a higher rate of duty.
- Import permits, license, visas, certificates: CBP does not require an importer to have a license or permit, but other agencies may require a permit, license, or other certification, depending on the commodity being imported. CBP acts in an administrative capacity for these other agencies.
Specific details, permits/declarations or statements are required for importation of a number of commodities including civil aircraft parts, radio frequency devices and assemblies, food, plants, livestock, firearms, radiation-producing products and materials, biological materials, drugs and medical devices, toxic substances, audio/video cassettes and tapes, textiles, footwear, alcoholic beverages, artwork, antiques, watches, marked/mutilated samples,
Some commodities are eligible for preferential treatment (reduced duty) when the appropriate statement or declaration is provided.
- labeling and/or marking requirements: All goods of foreign origin must be legibly, indelibly and permanently marked with the English name of the country of origin unless they meet the exception requirements in the regulations. (The requirement generally applies to individual units.) When marking is not feasible, such as when the article is too small or marking would in some way damage the merchandise, then the packaging or container that will reach the ultimate consumer must be marked. Specific requirements on country or origin marking methods and requirements are available in Title 19, Part 134 of the Code of Federal Regulation (19CFR134). Certain goods (partial list below) have special packing or marking requirements set by U.S. Customs or by an agency with regulatory control of the goods. Note that Section 43 of the Lanham Act (U.S. Trademark Act) refuses entry to goods marked or labeled in contravention of the provisions of the act.
- Clearance for certain goods being allowed only at certain designated ports
Goods which do not meet restrictions are generally refused entry at the U.S. border.
Country of origin requirements
Country of origin requirements are relevant to all imported products. Country of origin is a technical term which often means more than just where a product came from. The U.S. has approximately 20 different definitions of origin for imported products. The default position deals primarily with substantial transformation, i.e., production which results in a new or different good that has a name, character and use different from those of its constituent materials. In addition to the default position, however, there are various other origin rules that are applied in the U.S.. Some are applicable to certain product categories (rules of origin for apparel); others are applicable to imports from certain geographical regions (NAFTA origin rules, Caribbean Basin origin rules) or to imports from certain countries (Israel U.S. Free Trade Agreement and countries designated as beneficiary countries under the Generalized System of Preferences).
Trade group memberships
Numerous bilateral and multilateral agreements such as the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (formerly the Multi-fiber Agreement) are grouped under the umbrella of the WTO, the World Trade Organization, the successor to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariff and Trade). The WTO oversees most global trade in goods and services as negotiated in the various agreements; it also provides arbitration in case of disputes. MFN or Most Favored Nation tariff treatment is accorded to all countries who have ratified the WTO as well as to the other previous GATT members who have yet to ratify the accord.
Other government agencies
Although Title 15 (Foreign Trade) and Title 19 (Customs Duties) contain regulations that apply to most or all imports, many other Titles contain import and export requirements that are associated with specific regulatory agencies.
Import record-keeping requirements require the following persons to maintain import records and to make them available for examination by the Customs Service on Customs' demand: an importer, consignee, entry filer or other person who: (a) imports merchandise into the customs territory of the U.S.; or (b) files a drawback claim.
If a record keeper fails to produce an import record upon lawful demand by Customs, the consequences can be severe. If the failure is the result of a willful failure, Customs may assess an administrative penalty for each release of merchandise, not to exceed $100,000, or an amount equal to 75% of the appraised value of the merchandise, whichever is less. Alternatively, if the failure is the result of a negligent failure, Customs may assess an administrative penalty for each release of merchandise, not to exceed $10,000, or an amount equal to 40% of the appraised value of the merchandise, whichever is less.