Background

Federal trade regulatory agencies have recently announced the following with regard to their operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, please contact trade attorney Lenny Feldman at (305) 894-1011. In addition, Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg has launched a new resource page to help members of the trade community keep track of the latest COVID-related policies and procedures and understand how best to respond.

Department of Agriculture

Veterinary Health Certificates

The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced that effective April 8 for shipments arriving through May 16, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists may accept all import documents uploaded to CBP’s Document Image System for animal products and byproducts regulated by APHIS, regardless of the disease status of the exporting country. This includes veterinary health certificates and supporting documents for veterinary import permit requirements.

However, APHIS will continue to require original hard copy veterinary health certificates for shipments of the following high-risk products: (1) fetal bovine serum, newborn calf serum, calf serum, donor bovine serum, and adult bovine serum from all countries, and (2) fresh and/or frozen meat and poultry from all countries when the original hard copy certificate has not been provided to USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (if it has, CBP agriculture specialists may accept a copy uploaded to DIS).

APHIS states that shipments arriving in the U.S. without a veterinary health certificate, either the original or a copy uploaded to DIS, will be refused entry or held until the required documents are received. If there is reason to believe a certificate uploaded to DIS is fraudulent, CBP will retain the shipment on hold until the original is reviewed.

Fruit from New Zealand

APHIS has temporarily suspended the preclearance program for apples and pears from New Zealand. APHIS states that while it is unable to send preclearance inspectors to New Zealand due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and safety concerns, imports of apples and pears from New Zealand will be allowed to continue subject to existing U.S. requirements; i.e., to enter all U.S. ports of entry without preclearance if they undergo required inspection on arrival and meet all general requirements of 7 CFR 319.56-3, including all pest mitigation restrictions and treatments ordered by the port of entry inspector.

Department of Homeland Security

The DHS issued a temporary rule that prohibits exports of certain types of personal protective equipment being used to treat COVID-19 without explicit approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This rule became effective April 7 and will remain in force until Aug. 8.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Goods Imported for Relief Efforts

CBP has issued the following guidance on the processing of goods imported for COVID-19 relief efforts, including international donations accepted by FEMA via the International Assistance System Concept of Operations as well as goods imported by U.S. charities (or other private entities) to assist with disaster relief.  

IAS imports – Under the IAS CONOPS, the importation has been sanctioned by the State Department as an approved shipment after FEMA exercises its gift acceptance authority pursuant to section 701(b) of the Stafford Act and the goods are eligible to be entered without payment of duty or taxes pursuant to 19 USC 1322(b) or 19 USC 1318(b)(2). The requirement for advance electronic filing of cargo information may be waived for these shipments. For IAS goods, upon arrival at a port, a cargo manifest must be provided by the arriving carrier and screened by the port for high-risk factors in accordance with CBP policy. IAS goods do not require a formal entry and may be released off the manifest. 

Arriving foreign shipments processed under these guidelines must be logged and tracked locally by the port in accordance with existing policies to document the following: port of entry, importer, consignee, description of goods, quantity, country of origin, and destination.

The IAS process only applies to government-to-government assistance (nation-state to nation-state) and the shipments must be accepted by the U.S. government through the State Department. For individuals who provide assistance outside the auspices of a nation-state, domestic U.S. law applies.

Charitable organization imports – CBP may not remit the duty on the entry of any goods imported for disaster relief by a private group or individual pursuant to 19 USC 1322(b) unless the recipient is a recognized tax-exempt charitable organization. These private groups or individuals must provide a letter from the charity, on the charity’s letterhead, with the charity’s Internal Revenue Service number(s), stating that they are willing to accept the imported goods and that the organization intends to donate the imported goods. Shipments meeting these criteria do not require a formal entry and may be released off the manifest.

CBP states that any goods not meeting the above criteria can still be entered under established entry procedures.

Use of Automated Systems

CBP highly recommends using its automated systems to their fullest extent possible, including as follows, to minimize exposure and sustain trade activities.

- transmit entries and entry summaries to the Automated Commercial Environment

- update current account and point of contact information in the ACE portal, to include email

- submit supporting documentation or responses to CBP requests for information (Form 28) through the ACE portal or the Document Image System

- transmit post-summary activities, such as protests and post-importation claims, through ACE

- filers submitting post-summary corrections that require a payment of duties may opt to receive a bill or may still mail payment to the port of entry

CBP also encourages importers and filers to take advantage of the Automated Clearinghouse for electronic payment to the greatest extent possible. In the event that the use of electronic submissions cannot be utilized, documentation may be mailed to the port of entry for processing, to include checks for payment of duties, taxes and fees, liquidated damages, prior disclosures, etc.

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