Businesses in New Jersey and New York that import goods from overseas need to be aware of their obligations and potential liabilities under U.S. customs laws. Any individual or business that imports goods into the U.S. is responsible for paying tariffs, if any, on the goods. Various types of goods may also be subject to import restrictions or even bans. The federal government recently announced a settlement in a civil forfeiture action against a major retail company for allegedly importing cultural artifacts in violation of federal laws. United States v. Approx. 450 Ancient Cuneiform Tablets, et al., No. 1:17-cv-03980, complaint (E.D.N.Y., Jul. 5, 2017). While this is a rather extreme example, it demonstrates the complex web of laws affecting imports.
Tariffs on goods imported into the U.S., also known as customs duties, are established by the Harmonized Tariff Schedule for the U.S. (HTSUS). 19 U.S.C. § 1202. This voluminous document covers a wide range of items. To offer one example, Chapter 9 of the 2017 edition of the HTSUS covers “coffee, tea, maté and spices.” Most types of un-roasted coffee beans are not subject to tariffs, while “coffee substitutes containing coffee” are subject to a tariff of 1.5 cents per kilogram. Some tariff amounts are expressed as a percentage of the value of the goods. Imported thyme, for example, is subject to a 4.8 percent tariff.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identifies various “prohibited and restricted” items, which may be restricted for violations of domestic laws, violations of treaty obligations, or public health or safety regulations. The alcoholic drink absinthe, for example, is restricted because of federal regulations. Drums made from animal hides in Haiti, according to the CDC, are restricted because of a possible link to anthrax cases. In the Cuneiform case mentioned above, federal laws and international treaties addressing cultural artifacts play a major role.