Showing posts from December, 2008


Greetings from the customs territory of the United States, but just barely. I'm annoyed at Google today because when I tried to search for something, it sent me to en espanol.  I understand that this is a feature not a bug and that it makes life easier for the locals.  But how come I can't get to my plain old Google?  When I manually enter the Yankee-centric address, I am redirected to the .pr version.  Happily, there is " ofrecido en: English." Note that the same thing happens with Blogger.  Google should set a cookie or profile tag with my preferred language and search page. Here's a question to which I should know the answer.  Why are they letting me in duty free stores here?  As I recall (and I admit I have not looked at this for a while), the reason the proprietor of a duty-free store is exempted from duty liability is that the goods are being sold for export.  Last I checked, I was still in the customs territory?  What gives?  

One More Quick Item

An increase in the duty on cars imported into Russia has caused violent protests. Here is the New York Time story . Forget about all the academic arguments over whether high tariffs are good or bad for the local economy. I'm interested in that bust can't possibly sort it out in a blog post. I'm not, after all, a Nobel laureate with a New York Times column. No, I am just a customs lawyers. What I do think is interesting is the comparison to the U.S. market. What do you think would have to happen to get Americans to take to the streets to protest an increase in customs duties? The U.S. has basically banned some forms of caviar, made so-called "conflict diamonds" contraband, and maintains high rates of duty on fancy foreign shoes. So, I surmise it is not luxury items that would cause a riot. I posit that an increase in the effective rate of duty on Red Stripe , Corona , and Pilsner Urquell would cause an uproar among the pretentious young intellectual crowd.

New Lacey Tools

I'm short on time and I am pretty sure just about everyone has checked out of their business mindset for the holidays. Nevertheless, I'll give you this bit of news: APHIS has posted to its web site some tools for Lacey Act compliance. Lacey Act Declaration form. Plant classification database . And here, for good measure, is the APHIS Lacey Act home page .

You've Been Voted Off . . . By CBP

Just when I thought things were getting dull, Wayla Guy tipped me to this story . First, just so CBS knows, my firm has an office in New York and we are happy to come by for a meeting. We'll bring sandwiches if you want. The story is that upon wrapping the 17th season of its reality show Survivor, CBS shipped a container of goods back to the U.S. The show had filmed in Gabon, West Africa. Note surprisingly, the shipment contained lots of Africana including animal skulls and hides, ceremonial masks, ostrich feathers, shells and various bones. OK, first things first, people familiar with Fish & Wildlife regulations should have that tingling of Spidey-sense. What kind of shells and bones? Do we have a Convention on the International Traffic in Endangered Species problem? What were the masks made of? Could there be elements from protected species used to decorate those masks? As John McLaughlin would say, Issue Two: The merchandise was apparently infested with termites and other v

Are We In the Holiday Doldrums?

Seems awfully quiet out there. Washington is in pre-inauguration limbo and a lot of businesses are quiet either due to the economy, the cyclical nature of their business, vacations, or just the weather. It seems to me that there hasn't been much about which to write lately . (Perhaps I should post on whether it is worth sounding pompous to avoid ending a phrase with a preposition.) So, I will pass on this item about festive articles . After years of litigation, Customs and Border Protection has issued new guidance on how to classify festive articles in the wake of Michael Simon Design, Inc. v. U.S. This guidance does not go to bakers' wares at issue in the ongoing Wilton case, nor does it cover costumes, which were previously resolved. The upshot is that for entries post February 3, 2007 utilitarian articles like tableware, apparel, and bed linens are excluded from Chapter 95 by virtue of new Note 1(v). Following Michael Simon Design, the exclusionary note does not apply

New E-Mail & Twitter

For my side gig, I write technology columns for the Chicago Bar Association. I've been doing that for more than 10 years. The name of the column is "Riding Circuits." Lawyers will get the pun. One of my designated topics is online marketing. Lately, I've been reading a lot of over heated articles about the value of Twitter for lawyer business development. So, I set up a twitter account as an experiment. So far, I am unimpressed. I don't know who would want to virtually follow a lawyer around a mundane day. But, should you want to do so, feel free to follow me at . I'm not going to commit to lots of tweets. We'll see. While I'm at it, I created a new e-mail account for this blog. E-mail generated from my blog profile had been sent to my Riding Circuits account. I don't check that very often. This should work better. The new address is . Have a good weekend.

Customs News of the Weird and Book Report

I did read The Lizard King by Bryan Christy and found it thoroughly interesting.  The book is about the legal and mostly illegal trade in reptiles.  I initially thought it would be too much like reading about work.  As it turns out, there was just enough familiar info to make the book interesting.  Don't take that to mean that you need to be a Customs (or Fish & Wildlife) geek to enjoy the book.  It is more about the characters than the law and enforcement. Still, you know you are too far into this when a passing reference to the Lacey Act makes you smirk. And speaking of animal smuggling . . . Yesterday, on the flight back from New York, I read this story .  It's short, so I'll just post it here: A South African man accused of trying to smuggle hundreds of rare chameleons, snakes, lizards and frogs out of  Madagascar  inside his jacket and luggage was convicted Tuesday and sentenced to a year in jail. Jo van Niekerk, 29, a zoology student from Pretoria, was arrested i

Modern Communication

While I was flying from Chicago to NYC this morning, federal agents were arresting the governor of Illinois. When I landed, I and everyone else on the plane turned on their cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone, or Treo. At that moment, I overheard the flight attendant judging all of us for lacking the self restraint to be out of contact for a few hours. Apparently, anyone who turns on their phone when the wheels hit the runway has some sort of mental illness. As the phones came on, the news of the arrest quickly spread throughout the plane. People spontaneously started discussing it. The out of touch flight attendant was suddenly interested. The thing about it is that we will probably never be involuntarily separated from news again. When I was in law school, the Challenger exploded during the day. Hours went by without any news of the event leaking into my brain. I found out on the train home when I read the paper over the shoulder of the guy ahead of me. That will never happen agai

Personnel Issues

Generally, I stay away from news involving Customs and Border Protection personnel behaving badly. There is no point in covering it as it does nothing to explain customs law and could conceivably make a bad situation worse for someone I might have to deal with in the future. So, it works both ways: its polite and it prevents future hassles for me. I'm going to make a general exception here, without going into details. The first reason is that a loyal reader tipped me to the story. This indicates that it has some level of interest in the community. Second, it illustrates that the reality of compliance is often not the same as the government's abstract notion of compliance. The story is that a CBP employee has been charged with employing an undocumented worker to clean her home. It is pretty clear that the CBP employee knew the legal status of the worker because the CBP employee advised the worker not to leave the county and try and re-enter. Here is the full story . In the first

Sailing to Cuba? Do not Pass Go.

UPDATED TO FIX LINK (I hope). I generally stick to customs law here, but in real life I do export and trade work as well. With that in mind, here is a story I should have covered earlier. It's a sailing story, and I like those. It is also an international trade enforcement story, so that makes it doubly interesting. It seems that the Bureau of Industry and Security charged Michele Geslin and Peter Goldsmith with violating the export control regulations for helping to organize a regatta to Cuba. According to BIS, that constitutes exporting their respective vessels to Cuba without a license and that is illegal. Apparently, BIS had gone so far as to show up at the launch party to explain that export licenses were required for any vessel intending to visit Cuba. The result was a fine of $11,000 each and the denial of export privileges for three years. The details are interesting. But, more important is that the reported decision is instructive in its explanation of the process. Read i

Cool New HTSUS Tool

Here is an online tool only a compliance geek could love: Harmonized Tariff Schedule Online Reference Tool The ITC has launched a cool site that makes navigating the Tariff Schedule easier and links 10-digit HTS numbers to related Customs and Border Protection rulings. Thanks, ITC. We appreciate the effort.