Passenger van or cargo van? That is the question (well, for Ford at least).

red ford van

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A current case in federal court is attempting to address when or if a passenger van is actually a cargo van.

The case involves Ford Motor Company and their imports of passenger vans that removed a row of seats and sold the vehicles as cargo vans. Cargo vans were levied a duty of 25%, whereas their passenger van counterparts were only taxes 2.5%. Specifically, Ford imported “passenger vans” into the US from Turkey. After they cleared customs, the second row of seats were removed, windows blocked and holes on the floorboard for the seats were covered.

In 2017, the Court of International Trade ruled in Ford’s favor, but the government has appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments yesterday (Monday 11, 2019). Many are watching the ruling as this may impact what strategies companies implement when “tariff engineering” imports to avoid higher duty amounts.

Tariff engineering and finding alternate classifications under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the US (HTSUS) are common ways importers try to lower their duty amounts.

The Ford argument is the goods should be classified as they are imported and subsequent altering does not matter. However, the government claims Ford’s wording of the vehicle is “for the transport of persons” instead of goods, ie is a cargo van.

Will update as soon as a decision is made.

If you are interested in how your company can “tariff engineer” goods or want to discuss alternative classifications for your goods, contact experienced trade attorney David Hsu at 832-896-6288 or email David’s catchall email: attorney.dave@yahoo.com (will be sent to David’s dh@gjatradelaw.com) email.

General Tips for New Importers.

cargo containers trailer lot

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Importing anything into the US is a trap for the unweary and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP or “Customs”) does not accept “I didn’t know that” as a valid excuse. CBP requires all importers and exporters to be aware of the law before they import or export and as the old saying goes, “ignorance of the law is not an excuse”.

Here are a few tips –
1. You do not need an “import license” to import into the US.
2. You may need a license, certification or permit from other Federal agencies depending on what you want to import.
3. You need an Importer of Record number, typically your IRS business registration number.
4. If you don’t have an IRS business number, you can apply for a number from CBP through Form 5106 (after the shutdown).
5. Consult the Harmonized Tariff Schedule to see how your merchandise will be classified when entering the US.
6. You can get a ruling prior to an importation of merchandise through CBP to ensure proper classifcation and rate of duty.
7. Seek out the assistance of a Customs Broker licensed by CBP. You can find a list of Customs Brokers at your port through the CBP.gov website.

The seven tips above are just the tip of the iceberg of what CBP will require an importer to know. Feel free to give us a call before you begin importing – we’re here to help. Call David Hsu at 832-896-6288 or email at attorney.dave@yahoo.com.