Thursday, April 21, 2011

Expansion of Documentation Permitted to Substantiate Duty-Free Claims under FTAs

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently issued a memorandum to its field regarding documents used to verify duty-free treatment of textile and wearing apparel under free trade agreements (FTAs). In this new memo, CBP has stated that it will now accept supporting documentation beyond a manufacturer’s affidavit to substantiate a trade preference claim. There had been inconsistent treatment among the ports regarding what documents were accepted in FTA verifications. Some ports were flexible, while other ports would accept only a sworn affidavit from the foreign factory. The confusion likely stemmed from a 2007 memorandum regarding manufacturer’s affidavits. The 2011 memo addresses this problem, while expanding the types of documents permitted to substantiate a duty-free claim under a FTA.

Most important, this directive signals flexibility in what documentation Customs will accept in FTA verifications. It should also prevent Import Specialists from the continued denial of claims based predominately on the format of the manufacturer’s affidavit. Of course, regardless of whether an importer relies on an affidavit or other documentation, the following information is still required:

• Statement of person with direct knowledge of the production;
• Identification of the actual production location;
• Legible, printed name of contact person, including telephone number, mailing address or email address of that person;
• Description of the goods, including fiber content, yarn count, fabric type, and commercial invoice or purchase order, as applicable.

Flexibility should help reduce risk to an importer. There is exposure to an importer when it is unable to substantiate a duty-free claim under a trade preference program to an Import Specialist’s satisfaction. Goods imported under a FTA are conditionally duty-free, meaning that if Customs denies the FTA claim, the goods will no longer be duty-free. CBP would rate advance the goods, seeking duty owed plus interest, as though they were not imported under a FTA. However, by that time, which can be several months after the entry of the goods, the merchandise typically has already been sold—thereby eliminating the ability to pass along the additional cost in duty to the customer.

The moral of the story is whether using a manufacturer’s affidavit or other document to substantiate duty-free treatment under a FTA, an importer must ask its manufacturer’s the right questions and must maintain good records to supply to CBP.

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