US Congress Passes Customs bill to Streamline Import Duties

Last week  the Senate overwhelmingly passed a U.S. Customs and Border Protection bill that will streamline import duties on goods destined to be re-exported and allow articles exported from the country to be commingled for the first time , as reported by the Journal of Commerce.  The bill also toughens U.S. trade law enforcement and rules against currency manipulation.

The Senate passed the legislation in a 75-20 vote, after the bill had stalled because of an Internet tax ban included in its final language. The legislation now heads to the White House before becoming law.

This bill marks a “a major step forward” for the U.S. in international trade, according to Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who helped spearhead the legislation.

Overall, the bill reauthorizes the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, streamlines trade rules that aim to keep importers from avoiding U.S. antidumping and countervailing duties, adds new protections for intellectual property rights and provides more tools to identify and address currency manipulation. Drawback, or the amount of excise or import duty remitted on imported goods that the importer re-exports rather than sells domestically, has also been streamlined under the bill.

The legislation will standardize the time frames for filing drawback and modernize claimant record keeping requirements. Drawback claimants will have to retain records for five years after liquidation. Drawback claims will have to be filed electronically and no later than five years after the date on which the merchandise is imported or, if the claim is based on merchandise imported on more than one date, the earliest date.

The legislation also grants duty-free treatment to any exported product returned to the U.S. within three years of being exported and certain U.S. government property returned to the country. Articles exported from the U.S. are also allowed to be commingled and the origin, value and classification of such articles may be accounted for using an inventory management method for the first time.

The bill also increases the de minimis threshold on the value of goods that can be imported by one person on one day free of duty and tax, something which should benefit e-commerce.

The bill stops short of sanctions on currency manipulation, but does allow the U.S. to bar countries from trade deals and government procurement contracts if they artificially devalue their currencies to gain a competitive advantage through cheaper exports.

Many inside the trade industry hope the legislation will ring in a new era, in which U.S. lawmakers are more attentive to changes and evolutions in international trade.