Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ruling of the Week 2016.11: Seriously?

Calling this post a "Ruling of the Week" is a little disingenuous. It has been many weeks since I was able to make a "weekly" post. Nevertheless, this is my effort to get back on that self-imposed horse.

Today, we look at HQ H264891(Apr. 5, 2016), primarily because before I read this ruling I had never heard of "tendu leaf cones." I bet most you had not.

A tendu turns out to be the East Indian Ebony tree, diospyros melanoxylon. Someone decided to import leaves of the tendu tree rolled into a tapered cone and secured with threads and a band. You might reasonably be wondering why anyone would need this product. It turns out that these cones are commonly used as wrappers for bidis, which are an alternative to cigars and can be packed with tobacco or "other smoking mixtures." This image should help illustrate what we are talking about.

Keep in mind that as imported the cones were empty. They were, however, packaged with a plastic tool designed to facilitate filling and packing the cones with whatever smoking material the consumer chooses.

The potential HTSUS headings for this product are 1404, Vegetable products not elsewhere specified or included; 3926, Other articles of plastic; or 4813, Cigarette papers.

Because 1404 is a basket provision, it will only apply if one of the other two more specific headings does not apply. As between 3926 and 4813, it seems clear that cigarette paper is the more specific of the two headings. So, we should start there.

The obvious problem is that a leaf is not, in any ordinary sense of the word, "paper." According to the Explanatory Notes, "Paper consists essentially of the cellulosic fibres of the pulps of Chapter 47 felted together in sheet form." Because of this, Customs has previously ruled that tobacco wrappers made of tobacco leaves are not classified as cigarette papers. That would apply to the unprocessed tendu leaves, and exclude them from Heading 4813.

Customs then determined that the cones and plastic stick constitute a retail set to be classified on the basis of the single product that imparts the essential character. Here, Customs focused on the single item without which the set could not meet its particular need or carry out its specific activity. Customs concluded, reasonably enough, that the tendu leaves impart the essential character.

That, of course, leads to the question of where to classify the leaves. The only remaining option is Heading 1404 as other vegetable products and the applicable rate of duty is free.

So far so good. But, Customs is a law enforcement agency and is responsible for border enforcement for both the Food & Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau. One has to wonder whether the importer contemplated that its classification ruling request may end up raising issues of admissibility. Customs specifically warned the importer that it did not rule on the admissibility of the merchandise. It may be subject to additional regulations under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Moreover, the tendu cones may be subject to federal excise taxes. Now that those issues have been raised, the prospective importer should be certain to confirm admissibility and tax status before investing much effort in trying to import these products.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Final Exam 2016: Identity Crisis Edition

You may recall that last year my final exam for Trade Remedies was an elaborate, cinematic fact pattern involving the DC superhero universe. See here for that. Read the comments, which are really quite good.

This year, I was not able to string together quite as detailed a fact pattern for my Customs Law class. I did, however, ask this question. Tell me what you think is the correct answer. I will be flexible, but you should not need to stretch too much.

I'll be back soon. I promise.


Ralph Dibny is the CEO of Plastico, which imports plastic in various forms from suppliers all over the world into the United States. To find suppliers, Ralph relies on two representatives. Reed Richards is responsible for suppliers in South America. Patrick “Eel” O’Brian is responsible for suppliers in Asia. Neither representative is an employee of Plastico.

When Plastico wants to purchase materials from South America, Dibny contacts Richards who then finds suppliers that can provide the necessary material. Richards facilitates the transaction by locating and approving suppliers to Plastico’s standards, creating Plastico Purchase Orders, reviewing supplier invoices for Plastico, approving payment by Plastico, and arranging transportation. For these services, Richards earns a fee of 5% of the invoice price Plastico pays to the supplier. That amount is not shown on the commercial invoice for the imported product and has not been declared to Customs as part of the dutiable value of the merchandise.

Purchasing from Asia is a different process. Eel O’Brian has relationships with several plastic manufacturers throughout Asia. When a manufacturer in Asia has excess inventory, it contacts O’Brian and asks him to sell it to customers in the U.S. The supplier dictates the lowest acceptable price and usually refuses to take responsibility for the cost of shipping and transportation insurance, which must be paid by the customer, including Plastico. O’Brian will then contact Dibny and offer the merchandise to Plastico. If Plastico wants to purchase the merchandise on O’Brian’s terms, it agrees to purchase it from O’Brian. At that point, Plastico will create a Purchase Order naming O’Brian as the supplier. O’Brian places the order with the supplier, who ships the merchandise directly to Plastico in the United States according to the terms of Plastico’s P.O. with O’Brian. The supplier invoices O’Brian who then sends Plastico an invoice showing O’Brian as the seller and including a markup to add his profit. Plastico may not know the identity of the supplier until it receives the shipment, if even then. O’Brian has similar arrangements with several U.S. customers. He negotiates prices with the U.S. customer to maximize his income. The O’Brian’s markup is included in the commercial invoice used for entry and, therefore, has been declared to Customs as part of the dutiable value of the merchandise.

Plastico is always the importer of record and is not related to Richards, O’Brian, or to any foreign manufacturer of plastics. Transaction value is the applicable basis of appraisal.

Dibny has asked for your legal advice on whether the fee paid to Richards and O’Brian’s markup are legally part of the dutiable value of the merchandise. Dibny also wants to know whether there are adjustments Plastico can make to ensure that the amounts paid to Richards and O’Brian’s markup are not dutiable.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Week Is This?

I realize it has been a month since my last Ruling of the Week. I am reasonably certain I will come up for air soon and post some new material. In the meantime, if you are in NYC for the CITBA CLE and Annual Meeting on Thursday, I hope to see you there.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hey, look over there

Dear Lex Luthor,

This is in response to your implied inquiry concerning the importation of a large sample of kryptonite into the United States. You can find my response here, as published by the fine folks over at Law and the Multiverse.

That will be $3 million for service. An itemized invoice may be provided if you so request.

Very sincerely,

Larry Friedman

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

CITBA Annual Meeting and CLE, April 21

Join CITBA for a CLE event on April 21 to be held at the Court of International Trade in New York. Details and registration is available here. Registration is a little funky for now. You'll need to click select Event in the box on the left side of the Meetings, then click Buy Now. After that, fill in the registration amount ($60 for general members, $30 for government employees) and your payment method. Please RSVP to We're going to work on improving that process.

Krill Oil, Cryptozoology, and Tariff Classification

Podcasts are a terrible thing if you expect to do work or read books while otherwise leading a productive life. Among the many I listen to somewhat regularly is Tetrapod Zoology, from which I learn all kinds of thing about both real and fanciful zoology. It's worth a listen, though it may be a bit of an acquired taste. I came to it through the side door. Co-host Darren Naish is an actual, credentialed scientist who is willing to talk about allegedly unidentified megafauna (e.g., the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, and Bigfoot), not because they exist but because the notion that they might is entertaining. He and his co-host John Conway are fully comfortable trying to imagine how something as absurd as the Mongolian Death Worm might exist in the real world (because it does not).

Why I am on about this? Because I have been wracking by brain trying to think of puns involving krill and the baleen whales that eat them.

It turns out that people eat krill oil as a dietary supplement, which makes us share at least one thing with baleen whales. In Jedwards International, Inc. v. United States, the question presented to the U.S. Court of International Trade was the proper tariff classification of krill oil. The importer classified the merchandise in 1603.00.90 as "extract and juices of meat, fish or crustaceans . . . ." other than clam juice. This seems like a perfectly good description of the product, which, by the time it gets imported, contains nothing but natural components of the krill and a residual amount of ethanol from the production process. U.S. Customs and Border Protection disagreed and classified the merchandise in 3824.90.40 as a product of the chemical or allied industries, including several miscellaneous chemical products and preparation. To complicate matters, in Court, the plaintiff argued that the correct classification is as an animal fat or oil of Heading 1506 or 1517.

The Court easily eliminated Heading 3824, which is a basket provision for chemical products not elsewhere specified. Since the krill oil is described by at least one other heading, 3824 cannot apply.

To be classified in Chapter 15, the krill oil must be an "animal oil." This is where my limited knowledge of zoology might come in handy. I know, via Wikipedia, that krill are subject to the following taxonomical breakdown:


From Wikipedia

I also know that creatures in the kingdom Animalia are, by definition, animals. So, this should not be an issue as far as science and the English language is concerned.

But, this is tariff classification we are discussing. In the tariff, an animal oil is defined as "esters of glycerol with fatty acids (such as palmitic, stearic and oleic acids)." This definition is apparently fairly consistent in the literature. The kind of fatty acid found in animal fats is chiefly of triglycerides and small amount of other stuff including free fatty acids.

It turns out that the krill oil is low in triglycerides (23%) and is mostly phospholipids (53%). Since the triglycerides do not predominate, krill oil is not animal oil, at least not according to the Court of International Trade. Despite the product being known commercially as an "oil." Advertising and marketing is evidence to be considered, but does not determine tariff classification.

Having excluded Heading 3824 and Chapter 15, the Court classified the merchandise in 1603.00.90 as an extract of crustaceans. Yummy.

This is one of those cases I tend to find frustrating. The Court relies heavily on the Explanatory Notes for a definition of "animal oils" as esters of glycerol, etc. But the term "animal oil" is not defined in the actual Harmonized Tariff Schedule. That means the Court has added a limitation to the scope of the term "animal oil" by relying, in part, on the Explanatory Notes. In this case, the Court noted that this limitation is consistent with scientific and other lexicographical sources. Consequently, I don't think there is a real problem here.

But, on principle, the Explanatory Notes, in my view, should not be elevated to nearly statutory authority unless there is some ambiguity and the available sources of common and commercial meaning have been exhausted. I HATE the fact that the Explanatory Notes are not available for free to the trade community. If the United States Government expects importers to always consult the Explanatory Notes, they should be available to importers just like the regulations, the tariff, and CBP rulings: free. I know that is not the majority view of the Explanatory Notes. Nevertheless, I think we should consult to the Explanatory Notes less often and with less deference, at least until they are made freely available.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reminder: DiCarlo Lecture and CLE Program April 14, 2016

Don't forget to register for the upcoming DiCarlo lecture and the CLE event at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. It's April 14, 2016. Speakers will include Chief Judge Timothy Stanceu of the U.S. Court of International Trade. Registration information is here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ruling of the Week 2016.10: Share-A-Dram and NAFTA Marking

I've been at this a long time. Nevertheless, I am still sometimes surprised. That happened when I read N272495 (Mar. 1, 2016).

There are two "travel kits" at issue in this ruling. These are travel kits of the kind used by Victorian gentlemen tromping around the Amazon or Africa trailing a line of porters carrying their necessities. In this case, the necessities include six glass bottles with caps, two pipets, a funnel, coasters, a whisky taking journal, some other stuff, and a leather case for all of it. There is also a Share-A-Dram kit consisting of 12 glass bottles, a funnel, paper neck tags, and sample tasting ledger.

Customs and Border Protection decided that these kits are to be classified as retail sets based on the single item that imparts their essential character. For the travel kits and the Share-A-Dram, that is the glassware, specifically the drinking glasses, which are the most expensive glass items.

Here's the more interesting point. The drinking glasses are made in Germany and etched in the UK. There are pipettes in the kits, which are products of the United States. Everything else appears to be from China. The leather case includes a Japanese zipper. So, how should the importer determine the country of origin of the set and how should it be marked?

Interestingly, and without discussion, Customs used the NAFTA marking rules of 19 CFR Part 102 to determine whether the glass etching produced a tariff shift in the UK (it did not). Similarly, Customs used the NAFTA rules to determine that the zipper form Japan made a sufficient tariff shift to make the leather case a product of China. Chinese pencils embossed in the US do not change tariff classification and remain products of China.

Why is Customs doing this? It gives me a headache and this kind of analysis has given me a headache for years.  The only clue I can find is that the party requesting the ruling is in British Columbia, which is in Canada, which is a NAFTA country. The NAFTA marking rules are applicable to goods of a NAFTA country, so maybe that's the connection.

Let's assume that the goods are actually shipped from Canada, is this analysis correct? 19 CFR 134.1(b) says this:

Country of origin. “Country of origin” means the country of manufacture, production, or growth of any article of foreign origin entering the United States. Further work or material added to an article in another country must effect a substantial transformation in order to render such other country the “country of origin” within the meaning of this part; however, for a good of a NAFTA country, the NAFTA Marking Rules will determine the country of origin. 

So let's say, hypothetically, I import a German glass, etched in the UK from Canada. How do I determine the country of origin? Well, it comes from Canada, so for laughs we can check the NAFTA rules. We do that, and we determine that the glass is from Germany. It is not a good of a NAFTA country. Are we done? I don't think so. We next have to ask whether the etching is a substantial transformation. It's not, so we end up at the same place, but this is not a trivial matter.

The reason we have NAFTA tariff shift rules is to replace the substantial transformation test. That means the two test might produce different results. The NAFTA rules apply to goods of a NAFTA country. That means the NAFTA rules do not apply to goods for which the NAFTA marking rules indicate that the country of origin is other than Canada, Mexico, or the United States.

When a product is not the good of a NAFTA country, Customs needs to revert to substantial transformation. Or, am I wrong? Someone talk me out of this.

Congrats ICPA

Congratulations to ICPA on another successful (and sold out) conference. I heard lots of good talks and had fun fake-litigating the classification of chopped olives. Sadly, I lost. I also got to do a last-minute recycling of my talk on tariff engineering, which was both fun and efficient (since the work was already done).

Thanks to all the blog readers who introduced themselves. See you next year.