Advance rulings: limiting your USMCA import liability.

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Every importer of record needs to make declarations to Customs regarding tariff classification, valuation, origin of imported goods and more. Incorrect declarations can potentially lead to long term and expensive problems for the importer.

The NAFTA rules provided a method in which importers could seek guidance from Customs through an advance ruling to predetermine tariff classification, valuation, regional value issues, questions on qualifications of originating good, country of origin marking requirements, and more. NAFTA limited requests for guidance to only importers in the US and exporters and producers in Canada and Mexico who exported their goods to the US.

Fortunately, the new USMCA implemented several key changes. First, the USMCA not only allows an importer, but also allows an exporter, producer or anyone related to the trade transaction to request an advance ruling. Advance ruling requests are no longer limited to domestic residents.

Secondly, the USMCA agreement requires Customs to make a decision within 120 days – increasing transparency and predictability to the advance ruling process. Additionally, the USMCA also identifies the subjects that can be decided through ruling requests – tariff classification, customs valuation, origin of goods, quotas or “other issues agreed upon”.

Lastly, the USMCA offers increased protection in the event of customs modifying or revoking an advance ruling. Under the USMCA, an advance ruling cannot be revoked or modified if doing so will hurt the original ruling requester – unless the requester did not follow the advance ruling or the ruling was based on false information provided by the requester.

The best way to limit your USMCA import liability is to request an advance ruling – taking out the guesswork before the goods are shipped or entered into the US. Please do not hesitate to contact David Hsu by phone/text at 832-896-6288 or by email at attorney.dave@yahoo.com.

Customs broker and freight forwarder found liable for “use of a counterfeit mark in commerce”.

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A New Jersey U.S. District Court found a customs broker and freight forwarder liable for trademark infringements on Nike trademarks. The customs broker was ordered to pay $240,000 in damages and the freight forwarder will pay a yet undetermined amount.

The court held the broker and forwarder liable because they determined the arrangement of transportation and creation of documents related to the importation of the shipments constituted “use in commerce” of the Nike trademarks under the Lanham Act even though forwarder argued it had no physical control or knowledge of the shipments. Unfortunately for the broker and forwarder, the Lanham Act is a “strict liability statute” and does not consider intent or lack of intent in whether someone is liable. Speeding violations are the most common type of “strict liability statute” in that the act of speeding is the violation and it is not required to have the intent to speed. In this instance, the “use of a counterfeit mark in commerce” is the violation – with intent only a factor when determining the damages.

According to the case, (Nike, Inc. v. Eastern Ports Custom Brokers, Inc., et al., D.N.J. 2:11-cv-4390, July 19, 2018), the forwarder created the bill of lading, made arrangements for the cargo, and gave the broker a POA to act on behalf of the importer. The court ultimately found the broker and forwarder “played an active role in arranging for transportation” of the footwear and took “responsibility for the goods and making representations regarding the nature of the goods”. These actions were enough of an “use in commerce” under the Lanham Act and therefore liable for the trademark infringement.

One interesting note is the forwarder lost the case because they were in default after their lawyer withdrew in 2013. Default means a party to a lawsuit was properly served and noticed, but failed to make an appearance at any of the required hearings. For example, all parties are required to provide notice of trial dates and hearing dates. Proper notices were most likely sent by Nike to the forwarder – however, on the day of trial, no one made an appearance on behalf of the forwarder and as such lost the case for because they were in default. The forwarder, being in default, did not make an appearance and had no way to present any evidence to support their position.

Definitely an interesting case and the first time I’ve heard of a forwarder and broker liable for trademark infringement.

If you have any questions about this case and are would like to know how this ruling may impact your business as a broker or forwarder, contact experienced trade attorney David Hsu at 832.896.6288 or by email at attorney.dave@yahoo.com.