The U.S. Customs and Import rules and trade programs are a lot like U.S. tax rules in that the importer must comply, and is solely responsible for doing so in pursuit of his or her own bottom line interests.  How a business makes use of these rules and programs can have substantial impact.

Import Compliance

Imports into the United States must be cleared through U.S. Customs.  All imports must generally be entered, valued, classified, properly marked, and documented, and required duties must be paid.  Each of these requirements represents a corresponding set of rules and regulations with which importers must generally comply before the goods can come into the United States, permanently or temporarily.

Trade Programs represent both compliance obligations and importer rights and opportunities.  These encompass such things as the right to file a claim for duty drawback (refund, reduction, or waiver) of customs duties assessed or collected for imported articles that are subsequently exported; or foreign trade zone (FTZ) and duty deferral programs that allow deferral of customs duties for imported goods moved into FTZs (secure areas under U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) control).  FTZs are not considered within CBP territory.  Internationally such areas are known as free-trade zones.  Goods may generally remain in an FTZ indefinitely.  Certain operations and processes may occur within the zone.  Duties are paid when the goods leave the zone for U.S. consumption.  Goods may also generally be eligible for export from the zone duty free.  Utilizing an FTZ has costs and benefits.

Certain imports may be subject to anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVD).  This occurs when the Department of Commerce determines that certain types of imported merchandise were sold in the United States at unfairly low or subsidized prices.

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C-TPAT is another U.S. trade program.  CBP must perform security and compliance inspections on U.S. imported goods.  Under C-TPAT, importers may be considered low-risk and their imports less likely to undergo security or compliance examinations when importers undertake extensive supply chain security measures to become C-TPAT compliant.  For consistent importers, the benefits of C-TPAT membership may outweigh the costs.

Certain Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) may apply to specific imports.  These constitute additional intersecting sets of compliance rules, but FTAs may also operate to the importer’s bottom line advantage.  There are numerous FTAs that may apply to imported merchandise from around the world.

There are many import compliance obligations.  If you are or plan to be an importer, please realize that intelligent Customs compliance is the key to time and cost efficiency.  An international trade or entrepreneurial attorney can likely help and advise you.  Please contact any attorney directly to determine practice areas.  A Customs Broker can also generally help you.  In certain instances a Customs Broker may in turn consult an attorney.