Enjoy Duty-Free Imports With A Free Trade Agreement


Duty Free Free Trade

 

With relative ease, you can benefit from free trade. Free Trade Agreements allow you to import certain goods duty-free or at a reduced customs duty rate with participating countries.  To determine if you can benefit from one, let’s first take a look at the definition of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

What is a Free Trade Agreement?

Free Trade Agreements are agreements made between countries who want to reduce trade barriers on goods manufactured in their respective countries. Canada has entered into agreements with several countries including Colombia, Peru, Panama, Chile and most recently the European Union to name a few.

Free Trade Examples

Now that we understand the definition, let’s take a look at some examples.  A popular agreement is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which includes Canada, the United States, and Mexico. A more recent example is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.

4 Considerations When Evaluating Free Trade Benefits

 Now that we understand what a trade agreement is and examples of how they are used, lets take a closer look at the responsibilities you would be assuming.

In the case of NAFTA, eligible goods must be:

  • Manufactured in one of the respective countries (Canada, the U.S. or Mexico)
  • Qualify under the Rules of Origin
  • Shipped directly from the foreign country to the importing country (Canada, the U.S. or Mexico)

The following 4 areas require additional consideration:

1. Ensuring the items are shipped directly from a foreign country

In some instances, it is necessary to move the goods through a third country. A transportation scenario like this can still fall within the Free Trade Agreement rules by meeting certain conditions. In these instances, if the importer wishes to claim reduced or duty-free benefits, they will need to have proof that the goods were moved “in bond” through another foreign country and were never entered into the commerce of that country.

2. Accurate application of the tariff classification

Also of note is the common assumption that all Free Trade Agreements imported goods are all duty-free. This unfortunately, is incorrect.

Although some goods are entirely duty free, others are not.  Establishing the rate of duty for an imported good depends in part on determining the proper H.S. Tariff Classification. This classification must be accurate.  Furthermore, Tariff classification can be very complex and speaks to the essential character of the imported article including the following:

  • Description
  • Composition
  • End use

Additional questions about the product will need to be answered once the essential character has been determined.

To learn more about The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System sign up for our next H.S. Tariff Classification Workshop.

3. Comply with rules of origin

Another vital aspect of compliance are the Rules of Origin.  For example, if the product you are importing has any foreign content you must ensure it complies with NAFTA’s Rules of Origin to be eligible. Some goods containing foreign materials may qualify depending on the rules for those tariffs or the Regional Value Content (RVC). 

4. The party completing the documentation has sufficient knowledge

A further area of consideration relates to the party responsible for completing the shipment documentation. It is imperative that your foreign supplier has sufficient knowledge of the goods to support the completion of the Free Trade Agreement you will be using. Using the example of NAFTA, the person completing and signing the NAFTA Certificate of Origin is declaring that all statements are true and accurate. In other words, this person is attesting to due process and confirms that the goods listed qualify. 

Additionally, while the foreign supplier is responsible for supplying the respective FTA Certificate of Origin, the importer of record is ultimately responsible for the payment of duties, taxes and penalties if at a later date the goods are discovered not to qualify.

If you have reservations regarding the validity of a free trade certificate, you may better choose to pay the regular rate of duty.

In conclusion, not all Free Trade Agreements are the same. They provide importers and exporters  advantages such as duty-free or reduced customs duties. The best way to maximize the financial benefits of using an FTA is to ensure you understand your responsibilities.

Looking to learn more about how your company can benefit from free trade? Sign up below to be notified of our complimentary NAFTA for Beginners webinar.

 

 
 

What You Need to Know About the Section 321 De Minimis Value Entry


 

Section 321 De Minimis Value Entry

 

A de minimis shipment commonly referred to as Section 321, allows for goods valued at $800 USD or less, to enter duty-free into the U.S. Under this legislation they are also permitted to enter without formal entry. Therefore, this regulation is a great option for importers to save money and time.

Law previous to February 24, 2016, only allowed for a de minimis value of $200 or less.

Some goods may not qualify under Section 321 under the following circumstances.

Section 321 Restrictions

  • Goods needing inspection as a condition of release, regardless of value
  • Merchandise subject to Anti-Dumping / Countervailing duty (ADD/CVD)
  • Products regulated by the following Partner Government Agencies (PGAs),:
    • *Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
    • Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)
    • National Highway Transport and Safety Administration (NHTSA)
    • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSA)
    • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

*As of July 2017, the FDA has provided exemptions for this restriction for the following goods:

  • Cosmetics
  • Dinnerware
  • Radiation-emitting non-medical devices
  • Biological samples for laboratory testing
  • Food (excluding ackees, puffer fish, raw clams, raw oysters, raw mussels, and foods packed in airtight containers stored at room temperature)

 

Although the Section 321 option reduces the amount of paperwork required for low-value shipments, it creates a potential compliance pitfall.

Section 321 Daily Restriction

Especially relevant to importers is the daily restriction. As mentioned by authors Teresa M. Polino, Orisia K. Gammell and Julia L. Diaz in the Arent Fox LLP article Did You Know: The 2015 Trade Enforcement Act Can Save Importers Money?, “this increase applies to shipments of articles imported by one person (e.g., a company) on one day, other than in the case of articles sent as gifts from a person in foreign countries or in the case of articles accompanying and for the personal or household use of a person arriving in the U.S.”

 

As a result of this daily restriction, importers can only take advantage of the Section 321 benefit on one single transaction per day.

How to Declare Section 321

Goods valued at $800 USD or less can enter duty-free, without formal entry or eManifest into the U.S. Keep in mind that if entering with a shipment that does require an eManifest, the following steps will indicate to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that a Section 321 is on board.

  1. Within the ACE eManifest select the shipment type ‘section 321.’
  2. Enter a shipment control number for the goods
  3. Include goods details including shipper, consignee, value, commodity, and country of origin.
  4. Submit the eManifest to U.S.CBP

 

In addition, the carrier will need to provide the section 321 goods details and paperwork to the border officer upon request.

Since it is not a formal entry, there will be no entry number provided by U.S. CBP for section 321 shipments.

Best Practices

In conclusion, ensure that your carrier is not making multiple Section 321 claims. Carriers may elect to make the Section 321 claim to expedite the clearance process. However, they may be unaware of whether the importer reached their daily allowance or not. To avoid  penalties as a result of multiple transactions per day, we recommended that importers regulate shipment filings in the following ways:

  • Identify the particular shipment the Section 321 claim will be used each day
  • Request creation of formal entries on all other entries
  • Use the services of one customs broker to ensure filing of import/export transactions are consistent
  • Build strong communication lines with the logistics team including carriers, freight forwarders, and customs brokers

 

Have questions or comments regarding this provision and how you can ensure that you are taking advantage of Section 321 within the compliance guidelines? Ask us comments section below.

 

 
 

5 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid When Importing into the U.S.


Image: 5 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid When Importing into the U.S.

In 2010, during one of our first U.S. Customs Compliance seminars, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identified the 5 most common mistakes to avoid when importing into the U.S., and interestingly enough, these are STILL the most common mistakes today.

Whether you are a U.S. manufacturer sourcing from China, purchasing completed goods for immediate sale, or acting as the non-resident importer (NRI) into the U.S., understanding these common mistakes and how to avoid them could save you a lot of time and money.

Mistake #1: Not Determining Your Customs Tariff Codes Correctly

The Harmonized Tariff Schedule determines the correct duty rate for your imported products. It is the foundation for your import compliance. Using the wrong code can mean you are underpaying or overpaying customs duties and taxes.

There are many ways to determine your customs tariff codes, some more reliable than others:

Regardless of your method of determination, treat tariff classification like you would a medical condition. Rather than relying on a self-diagnosis obtained from the internet, some things are best left to the trained professionals!

Mistake #2: Misunderstanding Rules of Origin

There are standard rules of origin for all goods. When importing goods into a nation with which the U.S. has a trade agreement, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), they may be eligible for reduced or eliminated duty. Something to note, however, the use of an FTA may result in additional rules of origin to qualify for preferential treatment.

NAFTA certificates list the originating nation of the goods and act as proof of the claim. You, as the importer of record (IOR), are responsible for the completeness and accuracy of the NAFTA certificate.

Ensure you are filling out NAFTA certificates correctly by taking our Free Trade Agreements and Rules of Origin seminar or NAFTA for Beginners webinar series.

Mistake #3: Incorrect and Incomplete Country of Origin Marking

Legibly and permanently mark you imported goods with their country of origin. The country of origin may not be the same as country of purchase. Reference the U.S. Customs Regulation (19 CFR 134) to ensure compliance regarding markings and “J” list exemptions.

Pay close attention when reusing boxes. All previous markings must be eliminated to ensure that the correct country of origin markings are the only ones visible.

Mistake #4: Misunderstanding U.S. Customs Valuation

Delare the proper value of the imported goods to customs. Ensure you also calculate any deductions or additions. Support these adjustments with proper documentation at the time of entry.

Determine your goods value by attending our Customs Valuation seminar or commissioning our Trade Advisors.

Mistake #5: Using a U.S. Goods Returned Declaration for Non-American Goods

If you are importing goods back into the U.S., you can declare them as U.S. Goods Returned (USGR) to eliminate the duty… unless it turns out that they are not U.S. goods!

Declaration of Free Entry of Returned American Products requires you to provide appropriate documentation that goods were manufactured in the U.S. Maintaining a close relationship with your U.S. vendors may be helpful when it comes time to request an affidavit of manufacture to avoid paying duties on U.S.-made goods.

Final Suggestions by CBP

  1. If you are in doubt of whether or not your good is NAFTA eligible, do not claim it as such, and ensure that your customs broker does the same.
  2. If, after the fact, you find that you have made a mistake or a ‘false statement,’ notify CBP as soon as possible to ensure that you do not get penalized.
  3. Talk to your customs broker about the steps needed to disclose the scope of a discovered discrepancy. Some discrepancies can be corrected very quickly while others require more effort.

CBP does not want to be an impediment to doing business with the U.S. Avoid these 5 most common mistakes when importing into the U.S. and enjoy import success.

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The Cost of Customs Compliance Part 3 | The Benefits of Being Proactive


You have read about the perceived cost of compliance and the ramifications of not being compliant for the last two weeks in our Your Broker Knows blog. This week it is time for some happy news! What are the returns of investing in compliant trading activities?

To answer this questions, we are interviewing some of our team members who have many stories to tell!

Q: Do you have an example of a company who endured a Customs audit without receiving penalties as a result of their trading activities?

A: A few years back we worked on behalf of a client who was importing a large capital project into Canada. We cleared the project as one unit under a provisional entry. This is permitted when each part of the import would not work without the other.

The components were arriving from multiple suppliers located in various countries, at multiple ports of entry by boat, airplane, and truck, over the course of three years.

For theses types of entries, Customs requires the importer, to keep exceptionally detailed and accurate entry records for each shipment in the entry. As we were the customs broker, we kept these records for the client. Once entirely imported, the shipment records were submitted to Customs for audit. This value of this project was over $265,000,000.00 CDN. You can imagine how many pieces this import was made up of! The client passed the audit with flying colors! There were no delays, penalty payments, or entry corrections necessary. It was a complete success.

Q: What compliant activities did this company conduct which resulted in such a successful result?

A: Accurate and detailed records and procedures! It’s surprising how many importers can overlook this aspect of compliance, yet it’s one of the biggest problem areas. In this example, it was the entry records. But non-existent operating procedure can lead to compliance issues.

One of our clients received a sizable penalty when the person normally in charge of filling out the customs documentation for each shipment went on vacation. The vacation relief was not trained in this area and had no procedure to follow. The only guide they had to follow was past entry documentation. They copied the information for a past entries invoice, replacing the piece count and value, for the shipment they were scheduled to import. It later turned out that the shipment they copied was for a different commodity. They had inadvertently used the wrong commodity description and tariff classification. This resulted in an inaccurate duty payment. The fine assessed to them was steep. So…records are super important! And pro tip….file them by transaction number as that is how Customs will ask for them.

Q: Customs motto of ‘know before you go’ are words we repeat to our clients often. What does it mean to you?

 A: Oh sheesh, yes we do say that a lot! Know before you go is the equivalent of looking before you leap (in my college’s words). Who takes the jump before looking at where they will land?!?

 We give a lot of credit to new importers who check import eligibility through preliminary research before they make a purchase. Their research is not just online; they reach out to other importers to understand the reality of importing. They call a customs broker or freight forwarder to get a checklist of what they should do before attempting to import. They try to understand all parts of their supply chain – who is responsible for what. There is also value in working with vendors who have experience. Far too many times we clear urgent shipments from new importers who are denied entry for not having done this research.  

 A client of my colleagues was importing produce from overseas and did not do this research. It turned out that the shipment required a phytosanitary certificate, which they did not have and could not get. Customs destroyed the 6 palettes of produce. It’s costly! That client lost money on the purchase and shipping of that produce. A little research and a lot of conversation can avoid this.

Q: In all your years in this industry, what is the best story you’ve heard with regards to a client being compliant? 

A: There is one back when I first started in this industry that I will always remember. I was getting trained in a seminar when this example came up. I had just learned that Canada Border Services Agency would accept voluntary disclosure of an incorrect entry, provided that they do not find the inaccuracy first.

If a new client had provided us a product database which had even one incorrect tariff, it could result in years of incorrect imports. Customs can look back 7 years, which could result in a lot of incorrect entries.

Now, there is not too much an importer can do as far as lost revenues because, in this example, they would have sold the imported product under the assumption that the import costs were far lower than what they should have been if the correct tariff was assigned and used for declaration. However, there would be an opportunity to disclose this error and make the corrections to Customs.

Clients who find errors should always report and correct them to avoid a penalty that could be a detriment to their business.

Q: If you could give an importer one compliance tip, what would it be any why?

A: Oh my…seriously…just one?! I’m going to give a few.

Do your research, educate your staff, choose vendors wisely, complete paperwork accurately, audit your broker, and maintain your records.

 

Did you like this Q & A format? Let us know if we should do more of these interviews in the comment section below!

 

 
 

The Cost of Customs Compliance Part 2 | Not as Expensive as One Might Think


Image: The Cost of Customs Compliance Part 2 | Not as Expensive as One Might Think

Carrying on from last week’s Part 1 article, a customs compliance penalty often brings into question whether the customs broker can be held accountable if the importer is found to have errors in their import declarations. Since customs holds the importer of record (IOR) ultimately responsible for customs compliance, it is rare that an importer can shift the blame to their service providers or vendors who offered incorrect advice, submitted the declaration with erroneous information or lacked the expertise to catch potential problems with an imported item. Therefore, it is important to ensure your service provider evaluation includes the following:

  1. Does the customs broker have a process in place to review customs declarations for incomplete or inaccurate documentation prior to submission to customs?
  2. Does the customs broker offer Trade Advisory Services which can help with binding ruling applications on unclear product classifications or on new product purchases to determine any additional duties required and/or reporting requirements to other government departments?
  3. Does the customs broker clear all modes of transportation including courier shipments therefore ensuring consistency in both process and tariff classification?
  4. What is the level of certification, education and experience of the entry staff who are reviewing and submitting declarations on your behalf?
  5. Is your customs broker open during your hours of operation? If so, will they have an experienced representative available to answer questions about your specific account?

If your company’s supply chain requires the use of multiple customs brokers, we advise you to look into the following possible areas of inconsistencies.

Multiple Customs Brokers = Multiple Inconsistencies

We previously published an article on the Downside of Using Multiple Customs Brokers in which we highlighted two things to look out for when using multiple customs brokers.

Inconsistency between your chosen customs brokers:
Customs Broker ‘A’, who clears your incoming air shipments, may use a slightly different tariff classification code for your imported item than Customs Broker ‘B’ who clears the same item via highway transport. During our trade compliance seminars we often tell the tale of the outcome of three customs brokers classifying the same item and each coming up with their own justifiable explanation for their classification. This is a result of a highly complex harmonized system tariff schedule, the different experiences each of those brokers have had in their classification practice, as well as their understanding and application of the General Rules of Interpretation (GRI) as they relate to the item.

Difference in business process:
Not all customs brokers are created equal. Each has its own area of expertise and therefore business process. A courier company who offers customs brokerage as an added service has a priority to ensure speed and accuracy with the parcel delivery. A compliance broker, like us, Pacific Customs Brokers, specializes in ensuring their clients trading practices fall within Customs law. Our process differs in the the attention given to detail.

Review Your Entries to Mitigate Risk

As you can see from the areas of concern we have addressed in this article, and despite best efforts, an importer may be completely unaware of their shortfall in customs compliance. One way to review your customs broker’s accuracy is to review the declaration summary provided with the invoice against the following checklist:

  1. Has your vendor provided a full and accurate description of goods for classification purposes?
  2. Is the value declared on your vendor’s invoice correct and will it match your reconciliation to the vendor?
  3. Will you be receiving any additional invoices for value added costs such as royalties or commissions?
  4. Have all applicable discounts been declared and taken where applicable?
  5. Has the country of manufacture been declared correctly for all items on the invoice?
  6. Were all the items listed on the invoice received? Were there shortages or overages?
  7. Do you have properly completed certificates on hand for all items declared under a preferential tariff treatment, including North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Certificates of Origin?
  8. Has the Goods and Services Tax (GST) been correctly accounted for on all items?

 

We encourage you to reach out to our Trade Advisory team with any questions you may have regarding your customs compliance practices at [email protected]. We are here to help!