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27 March 2020
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting all elements of society, including the import, trade and transport sectors.(1)
In recent days, the Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have announced the following key updates:
CBP has also announced the impact of COVID-19 on operations. For now, cargo shipments remain unaffected.
CBP has announced that it will consider providing additional time for importers to pay duties and fees during the emergency on a case-by-case basis where they submit a request to CBP. Customs officials recently acknowledged that they are considering the idea of a broader policy to defer duty payments and delay other filing deadlines. There are several proposals for 90-day deferrals of duty payments, similar to the delay already approved for many tax payments. CBP officials have indicated that they should be ready to announce their decision on this new policy soon.
In the interim, companies should prepare duty payment delay requests. The most recent message from CBP is provided below:
CSMS #42097586 - Additional Days for Payments due to COVID-19
Due to the severity of Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will approve on a case by case basis additional days for payment of estimated duties, taxes and fees due to this emergency. Please note we are working on a future message that will provide further information. Please watch your CSMS messages.
NOTE: CBP has confirmed that the March 20, 2020 debit authorizations for the Periodic Monthly Statements and the daily statements have been transmitted to the Department of Treasury. Please work directly with your financial institution if you wish to prevent these funds from being withdrawn.
Requests should be directed to the Office of Trade, Trade Policy and Programs at OTentrysummary@cbp.dhs.gov.
The administration has announced that the United States has temporarily closed its borders with Canada and Mexico for non-essential traffic (ie, tourism) due to increasing COVID-19 concerns. The administration has posted Federal Register notices for these policy changes for the US-Canada border and the US-Mexico border.
According to the notices, this policy does not apply to legitimate commercial trade or travel. The notices specifically cite tourism as non-essential travel that will not be permitted.
The notices indicate that the following will be considered 'essential' travel that will continue to be permitted (the list is to illustrate types of travel – other travel may be permitted also):
The notices state that the limits "apply [only] to passenger rail and ferry travel" at the present time. However, in order to fully enforce the measures, it will likely affect all modes of transport.
The notices state that these restrictions are temporary in nature and will remain in effect until 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time on 20 April 2020 (ie, 30 days).
Potential COVID-19 effects on customs operations
CBP releases update on binding ruling requests
CBP released an update (CSMS #42092162) on the processing of binding ruling requests by the National Commodity Specialist Division. These rulings cover many basic customs issues, principally tariff classification, and have often been used by companies which have questions regarding the coverage of Section 301 to products of eligibility for duty drawback. While CBP continues to issue rulings, it asks that all ruling requests be filed via eRulings whenever possible (ie, filing ruling requests online through the CBP website).
The message notes:
Please be aware that paper binding ruling requests and requests that include or necessitate a sample may be delayed in processing and/or issuance. During this time, it is recommended that all ruling requests be made through the use of eRulings, and include detailed photographs or short videos of the product to be submitted in lieu of samples. However, we recognize that certain commodities require a sample in order for a determination to be made. In such cases, delays may occur. The National Import Specialist assigned to work on your ruling will reach out to you to discuss your options and whether a determination can be made without a sample.
Effects on port operations
The spread of COVID-19 could affect the movement of goods through ports and customs clearance. CBP recently announced a temporary suspension of operations in Houston over a COVID-19 issue:
CSMS #42080912 - Information on Suspension of Operations at Two Port of Houston Authority (POHA) Shipping Terminals
Please be advised that the Port of Houston Authority (POHA) has suspended operations at Bayport and Barbours Cut Shipping Terminals temporarily due to a COVID-19 issue. CBP will work with POHA to ensure orderly business resumption once a decision is made to reopen the terminals. In the meantime, interested trade community members with specific questions regarding cargo matters may contact the Houston Seaport Cargo Resolution team at (713) 454-8049 or the 24/7 help desk at (713) 454-8002.
Happily, CBP reported that operations at those two terminals were back to normal the next day. However, the message does point out the potential for disruptions at ports or operations at the border due to the spread of the virus.
For further information on this topic please contact David R Hamill, Teresa Polino or David Salkeld at Arent Fox LLP by telephone (+1 202 857 6000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Arent Fox LLP website can be accessed at www.arentfox.com.
(1) Further information is available here.
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