When importing goods into the United States the importer of record (the owner, purchaser, or a licensed Customs broker) must file entry documents with Customs at the port of entry. Among the information contained in the entry documents are the merchandise descriptions and tariff classification information. Many importers rely on their suppliers or Customs brokers to accurately classify their goods, but sometimes the importers don’t supply enough information for Customs brokers to accurately classify. What’s more, importers are often not aware that it is they, not the Customs broker, who are responsible for any errors or omissions in entry documents.
When mistakes occur on entry documents, for example, misclassified goods, Customs will require importers to pay any difference in duty and will likely assess fines and penalties. Here are a few measures you can take to help you avoid any errors in misclassifying goods on your entry documents and avoid supplemental duty payments as well as fines and penalties:
- KNOW YOUR PRODUCT!
- This is probably one of the most common oversights of importers. If the importer does not know all the details pertaining to their product then those acting on their behalf cannot be expected to know them either. Importers should obtain photographs of the product where possible, specific details such as whether (for example) an auto part is a bearing or a wheel hub assembly that includes a bearing, the manufacturer (not just the seller), etc. We have found certain trading companies involved in heavily regulated articles without being aware of mulitple agency jurisdiction at the time of entry, to the importer later dismay.
- Retain an expert
- Seek out the help of a licensed Customs’ broker with experience in entering your particular product or an attorney knowledgeable in Custom’s regulations. This does not mean rely on the expert to tell you about your product. #1 is always to know your product thoroughly yourself. This way you can provide the expert with a full, complete, and accurate description of it so he or she can then help you with compliance. An expert can provide you with the correct questions to ask your seller or manufacturer so you ensure either that the product is correctly classified or with proof that you have taken reasonable care in performing due diligence to correctly classify your product.
- Due Diligence and Reasonable Care
- Clients often come to us saying they have never been asked for certain information. The fact is that transactions and merchandise may be handled differently at different ports, and Customs may not ask the exact same questions in every situation. The general information will likely be the same, i.e. documents to prove origin of your product, production documents, transport/sale documents, etc.; however, your particular product may present a unique situation for Customs that may require it to seek alternate or differing information. Even within the same port, an officer may request information that another officer doesn’t. Always discuss your importations with an expert or a Customs’ import specialist in advance so you know what to expect.
- Informed Compliance
- This responsibility is shared between CBP and the importer where CBP provides effective communication of its requirements to the trade community and importers are required to conduct their business in compliance with U.S. laws and regulations. The Tariff schedules are available to the public, as well as many other publications discussing specific products and topics. You can also request an opinion on classification or a binding ruling on classification from Customs. An import specialist in the port of entry can provide you with more information, as can your retained expert.
- The following are questions (verbatim) posed by Customs’ in its informed compliance guide “Importing into the United States: A Guide for Commercial Importers” to assist importers in using reasonable care to ensure proper merchandise classification:
Questions by Topic:
Merchandise Description & Tariff Classification
Basic Question: Do you know what you ordered, where it was made, and what it is made of?
- Have you provided a complete, accurate description of your merchandise to CBP in accordance with 19 U.S.C. 1481? (Also, see 19 CFR 141.87 and 19 CFR 141.89 for special merchandise description requirements.)
- Have you provided CBP with the correct tariff classification of your merchandise in accordance with 19 U.S.C. 1484?
- Have you obtained a CBP ruling regarding the description of your merchandise or its tariff classification (see 19 CFR Part 177)? If so, have you followed the ruling and apprised appropriate CBP officials of those facts (i.e., of the ruling and your 28 compliance with it)?
- Where merchandise description or tariff classification information is not immediately available, have you established a reliable procedure for obtaining it and providing it to CBP?
- Have you participated in a CBP classification of your merchandise in order to get it properly described and classified?
- Have you consulted the tariff schedules, CBP informed compliance publications, court cases or CBP rulings to help you properly describe and classify the merchandise?
- Have you consulted with an expert (e.g., lawyer, customs broker, accountant, customs consultant) to assist in the description and/or classification of the merchandise?
- If you are claiming a conditionally free or special tariff classification or provision for your merchandise (e.g., GSP, HTS Item 9802, NAFTA), how have you verified that the merchandise qualifies for such status? Do you have the documentation necessary to support the claim? If making a NAFTA preference claim, do you have a NAFTA certificate of origin in your possession?
- Is the nature of your merchandise such that a laboratory analysis or other specialized procedure is advised for proper description and classification?
- Have you developed reliable procedures to maintain and produce the required entry documentation and supporting information?
For more information on correct classification or if you are currently facing an issue with CBP regarding misclassified goods, you can reach us via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (850) 893-0670 or toll free at (800) 583-0250.
 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Importing into the United States: A guide for Commercial Importers”, CBP Publication No. 0000-0504, revised November 2006, http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/trade/iius.ctt/iius.pdf, last accessed May 30, 2012.
- Understanding the Harmonized TARIFF System Classification of Products for Import-Export (worldtradedaily.com)