Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday's Questions: Marking

Someone from Germany visited with the following search: "origin country customs marking." Gl├╝cklich zu helfen, Freund.

U.S. law requires that all articles of foreign origin imported into the United States be marked with their country of origin. The marking must be permanent and conspicuous. For certain specific articles, Customs has specific marking requirements. This applies, for example, to watches and jewelry in the style of Native American wares. Also, Customs likes to see die cast or etched markings on pipes and the like. Bottom line is that it has to be permanent enough to reach the end user.

Deciding on the correct country of origin is tricky. We already discussed NAFTA marking, which is wholly different, so that is not what I am talking about here. The country of origin of goods is generally the country in which the goods originate or last underwent a substantial transformation. So a coconut grown and harvested in Thailand is of Thai origin. No problem. Coconut milk canned in Malaysia from Thai coconuts is a different issue. Here, the question is whether the coconuts from Thailand undergo a substantial transformation in Malaysia A substantial transformation is a change in name, character, or use. Given that the name of the product has changed from coconut to coconut milk, that it is no longer a raw agricultural product but has become a canned commodity, and that it can't be used to to make a bikini top, I conclude it is a product of Malaysia and should be so marked.

The coconut milk will need to be marked in a conspicuous place. It could be printed on the label so long as it is easily visible and permanent. If lots of cans of coconut milk are packaged together in crates for shipping, the outermost container must also be labeled with "Malaysia."

There are lots of exceptions and refinements to the marking requirements. For example, if the importer is the last person in the U.S. to get the product in its imported form, the goods may be exempt from marking. Another example is that replacement parts made in the same country as the machine they go in need not be marked. One rule that trips people up is that if there is a U.S. address (or other conflicting marking), then the origin label must be close to that address, in type that is at least as large, and include the phrase "Product of . . ." or "Made in . . ." on the origin marking.

Some products just don't need to be marked. These are on the so-called J-list. A lot of these things are just too small or there is some other reason why marking does not make sense.

Lastly, none of this relates to the use of the phrase "Made in U.S.A." For obvious reasons, that is not generally a Customs issue. It belongs to the Federal Trade Commission. Bottom line on that: if all or substantially all of your labor and materials is not from the U.S., you don't qualify. Think about that the next time you wander through a department or hardware store. How much faith do you have in most of those "Made in U.S.A." claims?

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