Similar to how taxable income is a primary element to determining income tax, the customs value is used to calculate duty liability. To determine an accurate customs value, companies must factor in certain dutiable additions and non-dutiable deductions. In today’s high-tariff environment, maximizing every deduction is critical and many importers are leaving money on the table.
For U.S. importers using transaction value, which is “the price actually paid or payable for the merchandise when sold for exportation to the United States,” the focus is often on validating that the enumerated additions to the price are properly declared to U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CPB). While this is a necessary step for maintaining compliance, trade teams should also consider whether they may appropriately deduct or exclude certain charges.
Historically, these savings opportunities have not been fully explored because the resources required to sustain some of these programs exceeded the savings. However, with the Section 301 tariffs in place for China-origin products, many companies are paying significantly more in duties. Removing these non-dutiable costs can provide substantial savings–making it worth taking a second look at them for many importers.
Eight Overlooked Non-Dutiable Charges
For importers using transaction value, the following savings opportunities should be considered. While some of these programs provide ongoing savings and some are only used in specific circumstances, they all may play a role in reducing the tariff spend.
1. Freight and Insurance
Foreign inland freight, international freight and insurance costs may be deducted from the transaction value if you meet certain requirements. More specifically, with accurate incoterms and supporting costs and documentation, this can provide long-term cost savings. Importantly, importers must verify that they are deducting the actual, not estimated costs, and that the supporting documentation is adequate. While the requirements around deducting these costs may be daunting, the advances in technology make freight deductions more approachable than ever.
Further, insurance costs may be deducted from the entered value when they are separately itemized and the actual costs (not estimated) are claimed. It is important to verify with sellers that they are providing actual costs because CBP will reject deductions based on estimates, even in cases where the importer paid more than it claimed on the entry.
2. Supply Chain (“Origin”) Costs
International transportation costs typically include certain other fees, often referred to as “origin costs.” In many cases, CBP considers these origin costs to be “incident to the international shipment of merchandise” and, therefore, possibly excluded from the customs value. Examples of these charges include security charges, documentation fees, and logistics fees.
On a per-shipment basis, these miscellaneous fees may appear insignificant. However, on an annual basis, they can result in a significant expense for the company by driving up duty payments. As a general rule, the importer must deduct the actual costs, validate that commercial documentation meets all requirements and understand where services are being provided. However, once these steps have been taken, it is likely that little additional work will be required to realize ongoing savings.
3. Warehousing Costs
CBP has found that warehousing costs paid by the buyer to third parties are not included in the price actually paid or payable of the imported merchandise. However, CBP has distinguished this scenario from instances where the seller, or a party related to the seller, provided this same service and the warehousing costs are included in the price actually paid or payable. In that case, those payments were found to be dutiable and may not be deducted.
For importers interested in using this opportunity, a careful review of payments and terms of sale should be conducted to validate that the transaction meets all of CBP’s criteria prior to taking this deduction.
4. Inspection or Testing Fees
Often before shipment, an importer will arrange for products to be inspected or tested to validate it satisfies a buyer’s quality standards. Under certain conditions, these fees may be excluded from the dutiable value in instances when they are made to third parties unrelated to the seller of the goods.
It’s also important to understand that testing that is “essential to the production of that merchandise” is dutiable. In such cases, CBP would consider payments to unrelated third parties for these services as assists that are part of the transaction value. For importers who rely on the seller to perform inspection or testing services, an analysis should be conducted to assess the ROI for engaging a third party to perform these services.
5. Latent Defect Allowances
In certain circumstances, importers may be able to reduce dutiable value post-importation based on repair costs attributable to manufacturing or design defects. For importers with high-value products, such as those in the automotive industry, repair costs can be substantial and this allowance in value provides an opportunity to manage those costs by reclaiming duty.
With proper planning, a program can be implemented to help ensure the importer does not overpay duty on goods that were defective at the time of import. While there are a number of requirements that must be satisfied to receive a duty refund, high-value importers should explore whether this may be an opportunity for them.
6. Instruments of International Traffic – Reclassification of Packaging
In certain cases, pallets, cartons, hangers and other packaging material may be considered instruments of international traffic (IIT), exempting them from duty. To qualify as an IIT, CBP has determined that the article must meet criteria, including that it is “substantial, suitable for and capable of repeated use, and used in significant numbers in international traffic.” Further, the article must be used in commercial shipping or transportation more than twice to qualify as an IIT.
For importers whose supply chains include the reuse of certain containers or other materials used to transport international goods, it may be valuable to assess whether these goods qualify as IIT and are, therefore, duty-free.
7. Post Importation Price Adjustments
When companies make post-importation price adjustments they may be entitled to a duty-refund on the amount adjusted. This typically occurs when downward transfer pricing (“TP”) adjustments are made between related parties, causing a reduction in the products’ customs value.
For companies that routinely make retroactive transfer pricing adjustments, having in place the documentation to support a refund can have a powerful impact on duty spend.
8. Taxes and Other Fees
Companies may be entitled to deduct Value Added Tax (“VAT”) or Goods and Services Taxes (“GST”) from the declared value of the imports when these payments are refunded. Not only should importers maximize their refunds where possible, but in doing so they open another opportunity for savings. When VAT is remitted by the U.S. importer to the foreign seller, separately identified and refunded to the importer, then the refunded amount is not included in transaction value.
Importers should team with their tax departments and foreign suppliers to understand if VAT refunds are obtained and create documentation that reflects separate itemization of the refunded VAT.
The Big Picture
Potential cost savings through the reduction of non-dutiable charges from the dutiable cost basis of imported goods are often overlooked. However, in this high-tariff environment, these programs can help companies easily achieve cost savings.
Additionally, with advancements in technology, managing these programs is more straightforward than it used to be.
Of course, like with any duty-savings program, strong controls must be implemented to preserve compliance. However, as it is likely that steep tariffs will be in place for some time, companies should evaluate which of these programs can help reduce costs, potentially improve the return on investment and then develop an implementation roadmap.
Andrew Siciliano is a Partner and U.S. Trade & Customs Leader at KPMG LLP. and Elizabeth Shingler is a manager at KPMG’s Trade & Customs Practice.