Are Your Competitors Paying Duty? The Truth Behind Trade Data Confidentiality.

Jane Taeger, Direcor of Compliance, Shapiro
Jane Taeger, Director of Compliance, proves taking a closer look at the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) could pay off.

“My competitors don’t pay duty.” Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I have heard this over my career, I would not need to worry about my kids’ college tuitions. How does an importer know for sure that the competition is not paying duty? Customs entry information is strictly confidential and not even available by a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. Want to get the skinny on what your competition is doing? There are multiple ways to do this without actually seeing their entries.

The first is to review manifest journals. All of the information about a shipment that is contained in the steamship line’s manifest is available to the public through services such as PIERS, Zepol, or Manifest Journals. So you can see what your competition is shipping, from whom, to what ports, and how often. Don’t want your information in the public eye? You can request confidential treatment of your manifest information. Contact us and we can take care of this for you.

Get a subscription to USA Trade Online. This is a service offered by the U.S. Census Bureau where you can access U.S. import and export data on thousands of commodities up to the 10 digit tariff number level. You can get monthly and annual trade statistics at the port level as well as state exports and imports information. Do the reports name names? No, remember entry data is confidential, but you do get detailed commodity stats. You can customize the data into reports in excel or with charts. There is a subscription fee for this service, but Census does offer a one week free trial.

Check the Customs Rulings Online Search System (CROSS). Here’s where they name names. You can search by your competitor’s name, by product description, or by tariff number to see how Customs has classified a particular commodity. It could be that your competitor is actually not paying duty because he got a ruling with a duty free tariff number. If that’s the case, make sure to get your own ruling so that you can take advantage of the duty free treatment, too. And yes, we can help you apply for a binding ruling.  Contact us to get started.

Now for the sneaky part. If you believe another company is up to no good and is not paying the appropriate duties on their products, then you can turn them in to Customs via the e-allegations site. You do not have to give your name.

Then again, you can always just ask your competitors….

p.s.:  If you’d like to learn ways to reduce your Customs duties, check out our whitepaper library and download A Guide for Reducing Customs Duties Effectively (and Legally).

-- Jane L. Taeger
Director of Compliance