Showing posts from April, 2005

Something Sinister on Birdwell Island

Occasionally my circumstances in life compel me to watch Clifford the Big Red Dog and its companion series Clifford's Puppy Days. Am I the only one who has pieced together the terrible tale of Clifford and his flight from the authorities? Clifford's Puppy's Days focuses on the early life of Clifford. During this time, Clifford was a small red dog sharing an apartment in the city with Emily Elizabeth, Mr. and Mrs. Howard, and several other pets. The animals include two cats and Daffodil the rabbit. Very cozy. According to the opening credits of Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Howards had to pack up the family and leave the city. The move seems to have been abrupt. At this point, Clifford is, as his name implies, enormous. He is the size of a house. They move to idyllic Birdwell Island. But something is missing. Where is Daffodil? Where are the cats? And, why is Clifford so big? The show wants us to believe that Clifford grew so big because of the love of Emily Elizabeth. Maybe

Compliance 101

Customs says there are five common errors that vex importers. In reality, it is Customs that is vexed, but that is a technicality. These errors are: Classification Valuation Quantity Rate of duty Payment of fees Over the coming months, when the mood strikes me, I’ll occasionally visit each of these issues and give you my take on them. In between, I’ll blather on about whatever I want. Today, we start with classification. Tariff classification is fundamental to everything Customs does. It controls the most-favored-nation rate of duty for imports and also the availability of duty reduction programs such as the Generalized System of Preferences, African Growth and Opportunities Act, NAFTA qualification, etc. Classification is also involved in how Customs targets imports for intensive examinations, antidumping compliance, and compliance with other agency requirements. In other words, if you get the classification wrong, you are likely applying the wrong rules on a bunch of other fronts. So

Am I a Crime Victim?

This is off my main topic, but I said I would include the odd random thought. I promise my next post will be hard hitting and timely. Really. I received one of those alarming letters from Lexis-Nexis today. The letter says that my personal information may have been stolen. This info potentially includes my Social Security and driver's license numbers. Great. To help out, Lexis has arranged with Equifax to give me a year of free credit reporting and some sort of fraud watch service. Trouble is, signing up is a giant pain. The Equifax site is so chock full of stuff that it is nearly impossible to find the correct thing to select. Then, there is a lot of information to fill in. Wouldn't it make sense for Lexis and Equifax to have created a single landing page for people in this situation with one single offer to select. If Equifax wants to sell other services, it could have a link on the page. So now I have seen my credit report. I have had an astounding number of lame credit ca

Capital Ideas

There is a difference between Customs and customs. I alluded to this in my last post, so I may as well get it on the record. The word "customs," in the context of duties and tariffs, refers to the money collected by a government agency upon the importation of merchandise. One online law dictionary gives the following definition: CUSTOMS. This term is usually applied to those taxes which are payable upon goods and merchandise imported or exported. So, when referring to the general notion of money paid as an import duty, we talk about "customs." Usually, it is modified to something like "customs duties," customs laws," or "customs regulations." The agency now known as the Bureau of Customs & Border Protection is known by the short hand name of "Customs." So, Customs collects customs pursuant to the customs laws and regulations. The place where this transaction takes place is a customhouse, which is often misspelled customshouse.

Safety in Numbers

Today, Customs (the agency) is all about securing the borders against terrorist attack. There are plenty of good reasons for this, the most notable having occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. But, even before that, the relevance of traditional customs duty collection activity (and the related recovery litigation) was threatened. The main culprit before 9/11 was the continuous trend downward for duty rates. As the total duty collected decreases, the interest in expensive audits, investigations and court battle wanes. But the new focus brings new questions. Primarily: are we safer now than before? I'm not sure anyone knows. Anthrax in the mail and snipers in Virginia seem like decent models for terrorists seeking to avoid Customs. Obviously, Customs can't go around telling the world (and, therefore, the bad guys) exactly what they are doing to sure up the border. I suppose there is a lot going on in the background. But, here is what we see in the foreground: C-TPAT: The Customs-Trade Part

Comparative Advantage: Should we Hate NAFTA?

I grew up in Massachusetts, a lovely state dotted with old mill towns that no longer have mills. A lot of the mills were textile mills that turned southern cotton into fabric. This was a hot spot for the industrial revolution. Take cotton from the agrarian south and use it to produce goods in the industrialized north. Why not grow the cotton in Massachusetts? Because the land is not good for it, the weather is no good for it, and labor is too expensive. That's why. Most of these stately old mills are gone now; but they did not go to Mexico or China. At least not right away. No, the much troubled American textile industry moved them to the Carolinas, for example. Why? Because it was cheaper to operate there. Maybe it was the cost of land in New England but a lot of it likely had to do with the cost of labor, benefits, union representation, etc. In other words, the south had a comparative advantage in agriculture while the north had one in manufacturing. Where were the anti-globaliza

Why a Customs Law Blog?

I am a customs lawyer. This is a rare breed of American lawyer that concentrates on issues relating to the regulation of imports by the United States Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (formerly known as the Customs Service). I say "concentrates" because rules of professional ethics prevent me from saying I "specialize" in customs matters, so don't for one moment think that I am saying that. I suspect that if you collected every lawyer in America who was actively engaged in the practice of customs law, you would not exceed the needs of a large ballroom in a major metropolitan hotel. We tend to know one another. Also, the folks who work for the government tend to know us. That means I will not be tossing any virtual molotov cocktails at any of my colleagues in the field and especially not at those few judges before whom I regularly have to appear. That just won't happen. I will, however, from time to time, post my thoughts on developments in the area. I