Important US Customs Ruling on Determining Country of Origin for Section 301 Purposes

Dear Friends,

U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently published a ruling that every company considering shifting production from China to Mexico (or Canada) as part of a strategy to mitigate the impact of the Section 301 duties should be aware of.  In Headquarters Ruling H300226, CBP concluded that, while the NAFTA Marking Rules (19 C.F.R. Part 102) are used to determine the country of origin of articles imported into the United States from Mexico for marking purposes, the traditional substantial transformation test is used to determine the country of origin of articles for Section 301 duty purposes.  A copy of the ruling is attached here for your reference: H300226.

As you will see from the ruling, parts of a motor were imported into Mexico for assembly.  The assembly operation in Mexico was sufficient to satisfy the applicable NAFTA Marking Rule, such that the finished article was considered to a “product of Mexico” for marking purposes.  CBP, however, then went on to say that the traditional substantial transformation test is used for purposes of “antidumping, countervailing, or other safeguard measures[.]”  CBP then applied the traditional substantial transformation test to the facts and concluded that the Mexican assembly operations were not sufficient to confer origin and, therefore, the finished motor imported into the United States was a “product of China” for Section 301 purposes.  So, in short, the product had to be marked to indicate that it was of Mexican origin, but the importer had to pay the Section 301 duty applicable to Chinese-origin articles.

This ruling highlights a few important points.  First, while the traditional substantial transformation test and the NAFTA Marking Rules are meant to embody the same origin principles, they do not always produce the same result due to the different nature of the tests (i.e., the traditional substantial transformation test is subjective; whereas the NAFTA Marking Rules are objective).  Second, for purposes of section 301, the traditional substantial transformation test must be used even if the goods are imported from an FTA-partner country (e.g., Mexico, Canada, Singapore, etc.).  The NAFTA Marking Rules may be helpful to that analysis, but are not determinative.  Finally, CBP is willing to live with this seemingly absurd result (i.e., an article marked “Product of Mexico” being subject to duties applicable to “products of China”).

I hope that this helps.  If you have any questions about these issues, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

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Section 301 – Latest Update

Dear Friends,

Just a quick update on Section 301, and the process surrounding List 3, in particular. 

As you know, the U.S. Trade Representative is considering whether to impose an additional 25% duty on a list of tariff provisions that represent $200 billion worth of imports from China (this is ‘List 3’).  The Section 301 Interagency Committee will be holding a public hearing on the scope of List 3 beginning this week.  The USTR will hear testimony from approximately 350 interested parties over 6 days.  The hearing schedule and the list of parties testifying are attached here for your reference.

In addition, we wanted to let you know that, as of last Thursday, the USTR had received 386 product exclusion requests under List 1.  The oldest request was filed on July 16, 2018.  So far, none of the 386 product exclusion requests have been acted upon.  A list of the exclusion requests is attached for your reference.  The USTR is expected to publish a notice in the Federal Register opening the exclusion process for List 2 shortly.  A similar notice (presumably) will be published for List 3 shortly after that list is finalized (expected in mid-to-late September).  Remember, it is better to file your exclusion request as early in the process as possible (it is going to be a long line!).

Finally, there will be a meeting in Washington between Chinese and U.S. officials later this week. This meeting is billed as being between “mid-level” officials on both sides (so, it is likely a meeting about whether it makes sense to keep meeting).  While this is a positive sign, it does not mean that the end is near (by any stretch).  For one reason, the U.S. delegation is being lead by a Treasury Department official.  The trade agenda (at least when it comes to China) is being driven by the White House, Commerce Department and USTR (not by Treasury).  As a result, no major breakthroughs are expected at this meeting.  That said, it is also being reported that there could be a possible meeting between President Trump and President Xi at one of the international meetings both will be attending in November.  While a resolution may not seem likely, President Trump has demonstrated a certain penchant for ‘declaring victory’ after in-person meetings with world leaders (and leaving the details to be worked out by others later – e.g., the Singapore summit with North Korea, the White House meeting with EU Commission President Juncker last month).  Nothing would surprise me at this point.

We hope this update is helpful.  If you have any questions about these issues, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

Post-Entry Preference Program Claims II

Dear Friends,

We wrote to you back in November about a development which was expected to expand the number of preferential duty claims that could be asserted for the first time via protest. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has now issued updated guidance specifying that all preferential trade agreements for which post-importation refund claims were previously limited to post-entry amendments (PEAs) or post-summary correction (PSCs) may now also be raised for the first time via protest.  This includes preferential claims under GSP, AGOA, the Australia, Bahrain, Israel, Jordon, Morocco and Singapore FTAs, and the Pharmaceutical Products Agreement, among others.

As noted below, this is a significant development since it expands the period in which post-entry refund claims may be made under certain preference programs.  It also breathes new life into protests filed for such claims that were previously rejected as “non-protestable”.  We have been helping clients secure refunds from CBP on such protests and would be happy to discuss this with you further, if relevant.

We hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions about this issue, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

 

Post-Entry Preference Program Claims

Dear Friends,

There has been some recent developments in the world of post-entry preference program claims that we wanted to make sure you were aware of, as they could provide meaningful refund opportunities.  A recent decision by the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) raised serious concerns about the legality of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 2014 policy limiting the filing of post-importation claims for preferential tariff treatment under a number of programs, including GSP, AGOA, the US FTAs with Australia, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Singapore, the Pharmaceutical Products Agreement, and others (“the 2014 Policy”).  It is now being reported that CBP may have abandoned the 2014 Policy altogether.

There are two key outcomes from this development.  First, post-entry claims under certain preferential duty programs may now be raised for the first time in a protest.  Second, for companies which have filed protests asserting such claims, there may be an opportunity to revive such protests and obtain the duty savings, regardless of how long ago such protests were filed.

Background

Preferential duty programs (such as free trade agreements, GSP and the like) can be grouped into two buckets when it comes to post-entry preference claims—the programs which explicitly authorize post-entry claims (e.g., NAFTA), and those which do not.  When it comes to asserting post-entry preference claims for the second bucket of programs, CBP has, since 2014, taken the view that such claims could only be made prior to liquidation.  In other words, for this second group of programs, a preferential duty claim could not be raised for the first time in a protest.  Once an entry was liquidated, the window for claiming a duty preference was closed.

In August, the CIT issued an opinion in a case captioned, Zojirushi America Corp. v. United States, which questioned the legality of CBP’s 2014 Policy.  The CIT said that the 2014 Policy was based on a misreading of two key Federal Circuit cases.  Both of those cases had addressed post-entry claims for NAFTA (which belongs to the first bucket of preferential duty programs), and according to the CIT, it was a mistake for CBP to try and apply the outcome of those cases to post-entry claims made under preferential duty programs falling in the second bucket. 

Zojirushi was dismissed by the CIT for lack of jurisdiction, because the Court found that the importer had not followed the appropriate course to get into court.  The importer claimed that it could not follow the traditional course for bringing a customs case at the CIT, because CBP would not deny its protests.  Instead, its protests had been “rejected as non-protestable”, leaving the protests in a state of limbo— having been neither allowed nor denied. 

The Court pointed out that there is a way to get your protest denied, even where CBP merely rejects them.  Namely, an importer can file a request for “accelerated disposition”.  Any such protest that is not granted within 30 days is deemed to be denied, thereby satisfying one of the prerequisites for getting into court.  Interestingly, there is no limit on the time for requesting accelerated disposition on a protest that has not been denied.  In other words, any protest that (1) has not been approved or denied, or (2) has been rejected as non-protestable, can be “revived” by filing a request for accelerated disposition.  At the very least, the request for accelerated disposition will trigger a deemed denial, which will in turn start the 180-day clock for filing a summons with the CIT.

Just this week, it has been reported that Zojirushi took the Court’s advice.  It went back to CBP and requested accelerated disposition for all of its rejected protests.  CBP could have denied the protests, or just waited 30 days until they were deemed denied, giving Zojirushi a path back to court.  Instead, we understand that CBP has relented with respect to its 2014 Policy, and has decided to allow these protests, rather than denying them.  While this change in policy by CBP has not been formally announced, we believe that a similar outcome is likely available to any importer with similar facts.

What To Do Now

(1)  Make a note of this change in the law.  If you need to make a post-entry preference claim under a preferential program in the second bucket (i.e., a program which does not include an explicit post-entry refund provision), you may now seek to do so by filing a protest, which extends the period available to file the claim.

(2)  Review your records to identify any protests that your company may have filed that were “rejected as non-protestable”, particularly protests that were rejected for the reasons set out in CBP’s 2014 Policy. 

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We hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions on this potential refund opportunity, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted