GSP 2014: Will YOU Get Your Money Back? (Part One)
The Generalized System of Preferences (“GSP”) is a program that has afforded beneficiary developing countries duty-free treatment of their qualified goods directly exported to the United States. GSP was instituted on January 1, 1976, by the Trade Act of 1974.
Canada has a similar program called the General Preferential Tariff (‘GPT”).
The United States Trade Representative describes GSP as a program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 5,000 products when imported from one of 123 designated beneficiary countries and territories. The USTR characterizes the GSP program as supporting U.S. jobs, citing imports of $19.9 billion worth of products under the GSP program in 2012, a figure that included inputs used in U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a 2005 study said that over 80,000 American jobs are associated with moving GSP imports from the docks to farmers, manufacturers, and retail shelves. In the U.S., GSP has been effective for prescribed periods, subject to expiration. The latest expiration was July 31, 2013. In the past, when GSP lapsed, legislation intended to reinstate duty-free treatment eventually has been put in place. Duties paid in the interim may be retroactively refunded.
However, that retroactivity has not always been smooth. When GSP lapsed in 1998, retroactive refunds were issued, including refunds to our client Samuel Aaron, Inc., an importer of gold jewelry from Thailand. The GSP qualification for gold jewelry from Thailand expired with the expiration of the program as a whole. It was later restored to the list of qualified goods, but it was not on the list of qualified goods on July 1, 1998. The statutory language for the retroactivity of GSP in 1998 applied to goods qualified for GSP on July 1, 1998. Despite the fact that gold jewelry from Thailand was NOT qualified for GSP on July 1, 1998, U.S. Customs refunded the duties Samuel Aaron paid on entry, and then had second thoughts. Eventually, in 2007, the Court of Appeals upheld the unorthodox “off-line” reliquidations and the issuance of bills between six and ten weeks AFTER the window for “voluntary reliquidation” would have allowed Customs to correct errors in the original liquidations. The court refused to recognize the importer’s arguments that what took place when the bills were issued was the actual reliquidation, and that Customs was prevented statutorily under 19 USC 1501 from reliquidating an entry more than 90 days after the original liquidation of the duties, taxes and fees owed on an entry.
To get to court, any importer contesting a decision by Customs, must pay the amount in issue. Samuel Aaron paid the previously refunded duty, and the courts refused to give it back.
The point of all this is that YOU may think you’re going to get a refund of duties paid on goods from GSP beneficiary developing countries if/when GSP is reinstated, but it ain’t necessarily so.