Cross-border trade community warms to 90-day duty deferral

Some members of the border trade community said the new 90-day duty deferral option will provide some relief for importers and brokers during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump announced the deferral on April 18. It allows for the delayed deposit of customs duties that were due March 1-April 30 for companies “experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.” The deferral is temporary and limited to general customs duties.

“It’s more for the importer of record and their side of business; they are the ones that choose what goes and comes across and what to buy,” said Ermilo Richer III, executive director of Laredo-based customs broker Richer. “Still, at the end of the day, it comes down to every dollar helps right now. So it’s definitely an expense that’s going to be dragged on 90 days from now, until that date the duty deposit would otherwise have been due.”

Ashley Craig, an attorney and co-chairman of Venable LLP’s international trade group, said the first thing an importer or broker needs to do is determine who can qualify for the deferral.

“You have to go through essentially a hardship calculation according to Trump’s executive order,” Craig said. “So the importer has to show they have been fully impacted during the month of March 2020 or April 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, which includes being impacted by the government shutdown — limiting commerce, travel, group meetings, etc. And you demonstrate that you are being adversely impacted by looking essentially at your current financials and then looking at last year’s.”

Importers and brokers must also be able to show a 60% reduction in gross receipts between March 13-31 or April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 to qualify for the deferral.

The main beneficiaries of the deferment are importers of textiles, footwear and apparel, especially from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, India, Indonesia and Mexico.

Some duties are not covered by Trump’s executive order, including anti-dumping and countervailing duties, which includes steel and aluminum tariffs and 301 duties against the European Union and China.

Craig said importers must make sure to have a separate line entry for customs goods from China, versus other countries, to take advantage of the deferral.

“There’s a lot of red tape here before you can actually take advantage of it,” Craig said. “What we’re telling clients is to take a look at the order, look at the customs implementing rules, start with your financial situation and let’s make certain that you are at that 60% level or greater. And then from there, move into further analysis of what you’re importing.”

Armando Taboada, U.S. Customs and Border Protection assistant director of field operations in Laredo, said he has already been fielding calls from the trade community with questions about the deferral.

“It was not across the board, you know, everyone don’t pay your duties for the next 90 days. That’s not the case. You have to qualify for the 90-day deferral,” Taboada said during a conference call on Friday. “The deferral was mainly for the importer, but there are some brokers that also come in as importer of record that may be affected by this order.”

Richer said he had spoken to several companies that want to take advantage of the deferral.

“We know a couple of companies that are definitely going to try to apply for the 90-day deferment,” Richer said. “At the end of the day, if an importer can save money or keep the company going, that helps everyone, from the truck drivers who are working long hours, to warehouse workers who are also out there putting their best in these hard times and making sure trucks get loaded and keep moving.”