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LATEST: CBP Issues Marking Guidance for Goods Produced in Hong Kong

hong kong

LATEST: CBP Issues Marking Guidance for Goods Produced in Hong Kong

On August 10, 2020, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) issued a notice that goods produced in Hong Kong will need to be marked as a product of China starting on September 25, 2020. The marking changes are the result of the July 14, 2020 Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization that ended Hong Kong’s special trade status.

CBP is allowing for a 45-day transition period after the date of publication in the Federal Register to implement the requirements due to the “commercial realities.” The notice does not specify how the changes affect tariff treatment of Hong Kong goods.

An administration official has stated that the Executive Order does not “provide for new U.S. tariffs on goods from Hong Kong”, but that the Administration is continuing to evaluate its policies. Therefore, at this time, it remains unclear whether goods originating in Hong Kong will be subject to the same tariffs as Chinese origin goods, including antidumping duties, countervailing duties and Section 301 duties.

Additional guidance from CBP, USTR and the U.S. Department of Commerce is expected.

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Stephen Brophy is an attorney in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Washington, D.C. office focusing on international trade.

Robert Stang is a Washington, D.C.-based partner with the law firm Husch Blackwell LLP. He leads the firm’s Customs group.

Turner Kim is an Assistant Trade Analyst in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Washington, D.C. office.

Camron Greer is an Assistant Trade Analyst in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Washington, D.C. office.

compliance

U.S. Regulators Focus on Compliance Efforts in Enforcement Decisions Involving International Companies

Over the past few years, U.S. regulators have made it clear that having comprehensive and effective compliance policies covering trade is a must, regardless of the company size, location or industry. The government’s move to formalize the importance of compliance programs is a clear signal of what it expects and a harbinger of what is to come.

Why Is Trade Compliance Important Regardless of the Company’s Location?

Trade compliance should be the goal of every global company, in particular as a risk mitigation measure and a positive value proposition. A compliance program serves as a security blanket for large financial institutions accustomed to dealing with regulations, small startups with a cloud-based platform, and even companies with no physical presence in the United States. A trade compliance program lays the groundwork for international companies on how to conduct business in or with the United States.

With changing industry regulations, it is critical to keep up to date and have a compliance program that is effective. Failure to have a strong compliance program could result in increased legal exposure, potentially leading to fines and penalties as well as negative publicity associated with an enforcement action. Maintaining an effective trade compliance program could help companies mitigate penalties for potential violations, and is ultimately cost-effective. For example, last year, the U.S. government imposed $1.3 billion in penalties on cargo firms, penalties that could have been mitigated with robust compliance programs.

 Avoiding U.S. Sanctions

Engaging in the complex global supply chain may be a financial win, but it requires formalized diligence procedures to ensure your company does not run afoul of the law. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has released guidance encouraging organizations to employ a risk-based approach to sanctions compliance and focus on five essential components: senior management commitment, risk assessments, internal controls, testing and auditing, and training. To incentivize companies to engage in international transactions, OFAC also provides that in the case of a violation, it will give favorable consideration to companies with effective sanctions compliance programs and that the existence of such a program may mitigate a civil monetary penalty.

OFAC is not just issuing guidance, it is increasing its enforcement efforts involving both U.S. and foreign entities. It continues to designate more non-U.S. entities that have helped evade U.S. sanctions. For example, several Chinese shipping companies were found to have violated North Korean sanctions, and as a result, were blocked from doing business in the U.S. or with U.S. parties. In January 2020, Eagle Shipping, a Marshall Islands ship management company with headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, agreed to pay $1,125,000 to settle its potential civil liability for 36 apparent violations of the Burmese Sanctions Regulations. The violations involved Eagle Shipping’s affiliate in Singapore entering into a chartering agreement with Myawaddy—an entity identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. Eagle filed an application with OFAC requesting a license authorizing it to carry sand cargoes purchased from Myawaddy but continued its dealings while the OFAC application was pending. OFAC ultimately denied the license, but Eagle resumed its dealings with Myawaddy, carrying cargo from Burma to Singapore.

Among the aggravating factors, OFAC considered Eagle’s status as a sophisticated shipping company, which should have had expertise in international trade and global shipping transactions. Among the mitigating factors, OFAC considered Eagle’s efforts to develop and implement a formal sanctions compliance program with specific policies and procedures for compliance screening, transaction checklists, and red-flag identification tools.

Compliance Under Commercial Export Laws

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), which administers U.S. commercial export control regulations, also has published comprehensive guidance for companies working to develop or shore up compliance materials. In its guidance, BIS identified the following elements as foundational in creating an effective Export Compliance Program (ECP): management commitment, completing regular risk assessments, obtaining proper export authorization, record-keeping, training, compliance audits, addressing export violations and taking corrective actions, and maintaining your ECP. Like OFAC, BIS emphasizes the importance of tailoring your ECP to your organization and business based on size, volume of exports, geographic location, and other relevant factors. Companies that fail to comply with regulations that govern export controls have experienced significant penalties.

The U.S. export control laws govern not only U.S. companies, but also certain export activities of foreign companies dealing with the export of certain products, technology, or services from the United States to a foreign country. For example, most recently, BIS imposed substantial export and reexport restrictions on Huawei, a Chinese company, and its 68 non-U.S. affiliates in connection with Huawei’s violations of U.S. export laws specific to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. As part of that action, BIS restricted any export, re-export, or transfer of U.S.-origin technology, commodity, or software to Huawei and its entities without an export license.

This enforcement action ultimately impacted both the U.S. and non-U.S. businesses, including big and small tech companies, suppliers, importers, shippers, and financial institutions. Separately, in 2017, the U.S. government imposed a $1.2 billion criminal fine against ZTE, a Chinese telecom equipment company, for shipping U.S.-origin telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. These two cases have affected how U.S. and foreign companies view their compliance programs; they also have incentivized the development and implementation of more robust compliance programs, including vetting procedures and sanctions checks that ensure adherence to the U.S. export control regulations.

Recommended Steps for Ensuring Compliance and Mitigating Risk

-The benefits of having a compliance program in place when a mistake happens are significant. When creating your tailored trade compliance policies and procedures, remember the following:

-Compliance programs should include a comprehensive, independent, and objective testing or audit function to ensure that your business is aware of how its programs are performing.

-Programs should be updated regularly in light of constantly changing regulatory and business environments.

-Ensure that your compliance program has comprehensive coverage to track all parties involved in import and export transactions.

-Even products that seem harmless can be used in ways that companies do not intend. As an organization, you are responsible for knowing how your products will be used and for avoiding government-prohibited end uses.

-Watch for red flags on BIS’s published list.

-Watch for “deemed” exports, which are released in the United States of technology or source code to a foreign person. Such a release is deemed to be an export to the foreign person’s most recent country of citizenship or permanent residency, which may require a license or even be prohibited.

Now more than ever, government offices and agencies are providing the industry with guidance on how best to comply with trade regulations. However, this also means that companies can no longer claim ignorance of trade regulations. Today, companies participating in the global marketplace must take proactive preventive measures to ensure compliance, mitigate risk, and minimize potential penalties.

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 Doreen Edelman and Zarema Jaramillo are attorneys at Lowenstein Sandler.

Goods

Is Your Supply Chain Prepared for Potential U.S. Tariffs on EU Goods?

Transatlantic tariffs came closer to reality in recent months after the United States Trade Representative (USTR) proposed tariffs on a list of products from the European Union (EU). 

Unfortunately, even if you’ve already gone through something similar with goods imported from China, the same strategy may not be effective for the tariffs on EU goods. This is due in large part to the types of proposed commodities from the EU.

The good news is there are things you can do today to adjust your import strategy to maintain compliance while insulating your company from the proposed tariffs.

Up to $25 billion worth of EU goods at stake

The USTR announcements in April and July proposed tariffs targeting up to $25 billion worth of goods. This includes items such as new aircraft and aircraft parts, foods ranging from seafood and meat to cheese and pasta, wine and whiskey, and even ceramics and cleaning chemicals. 

To date, the USTR has only provided a preliminary commodity list for the proposed U.S. tariffs on EU goods. No percentages have been announced, leaving many to wonder if the tariffs will be manageable—in the 5-10% range—or more substantial, like the 25% tariffs applied to China imports. 

On top of the tariffs, when the French Senate announced a 3% tax on revenue from digital services earned in France, President Trump threatened a counter-tax on French wine. But it’s unclear if this tax will come to fruition or fizzle out—especially since the USTR’s tariff list already includes many types of wine. 

5 key questions to insulate your supply chain

Looking for the best way to prepare your business from the potential tariff increases? Answering these key questions may help you adapt and insulate your company. 

-Do you have a plan to cover the costs? 

You may not be able to avoid paying the tariffs, but there are various strategies you may consider to help cover their costs. 

While not ideal, you could increase prices to end consumers. It may not be feasible to recover the entire cost of an added tariff, but you can at least offset a small portion of the tariff this way.

You can also adjust the cost of the goods with suppliers and manufacturers to cover a portion of the tariff. Just remember: pricing changes still need to meet the valuation regulations with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 

-Will you need to increase your customs bond? 

The smallest customs bond an importer can hold is $50,000. That used to be enough for many importers to cover generally 10% of the duties and taxes you expect to pay CBP. 

Unfortunately, as many importers from China are learning, a 25% tariff on products can quickly exceed your bond amount. And bond insufficiency can shut down all your imports while resulting in delays and added expenses. 

To help avoid bond insufficiency, consider any increased duty amounts in advance of your next bond renewal period. And don’t wait to do this until the last minute, because raising your customs bond with your surety company can take up to four weeks. 

-Do you re-export goods brought into the U.S.? 

Duty drawback programs can’t be used by every importer. But if you can take advantage of them, they can result in big savings for your company.

In fact, you can get back 99% of certain import duties, taxes, and fees on imported goods that you re-export out of the U.S. Just be aware that you still need to pay the duties up front. And you might need to wait up to two years to get your refund. 

-Are your product classifications current and accurate?

With potential tariffs looming, consider reviewing your product classifications and make sure they’re accurate. If you find an issue, discuss it with your broker or customs counsel to discuss how you can properly rectify the issue, and avoid penalties from doing it incorrectly.

And while we’re on the topic of product classifications, never change them to evade tariffs. CBP will be on the lookout for this kind of activity, and the penalties for noncompliance can be steep.

-Do you have the support you need?

Changing your customs brokers may not sound appealing, but ensuring they provide all the services you need to stay compliant should be your top priority when working with them.

Your provider should help make sure you pay the appropriate duty rates for your products. And they should have people and services available globally to support your freight wherever it is located throughout the world. 

Also, consider simplifying your support by working with one provider that offers not only customs brokerage and trade compliance services but also global ocean and air freight logistics services. 

If you only employ one strategy…

Discuss your import strategy with your customs attorney or customs compliance expert. Bringing in specialized expertise is the most effective way to analyze how these tariffs could affect your products, your supply chain, and your business. 

If you don’t yet have a customs broker who can meet all your needs in today’s changing environment, consider C.H. Robinson’s customs compliance services. With over 100 licensed customs brokers in North America, and a Trusted Advisor® approach, our experts are ready to help.

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Ben Bidwell serves as the Director of U.S. Customs at  C.H. Robinson