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This Week's Trade & Tariff Perspective

October 13, 2021 | Alyson Brinkman Senior Compliance Manager

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Know Your Options When Importing Commercial Samples

Commercial samples are an essential part of any business and product development. Importing commercial samples is important when soliciting orders and testing the quality of the product and its materials prior to manufacturing.

This phase is crucial for anyone making changes to products, adding to their product line, or considering placing a big order with the manufacturer. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regulates the importation of commercial samples the same as any other commercial shipment, and it’s important for an importer to do their due diligence prior to shipping them.

There are several different options when importing commercial samples into the United States, and importers should be aware of the requirements when trying to determine the best option.

Permanently importing commercial samples into the United States

There are two primary options for an importer to bring in commercial samples permanently into the United States.

1: Duty free entry – 9811.00.60

The U.S. Harmonized Tariff Code (HTS) does have a specific provision for commercial samples. HTS number 9811.00.60 covers, "Any sample except samples covered in 9811.00.20 (alcohol samples) or 9811.00.40 (tobacco samples), valued not over $1 each, or marked, torn, perforated or otherwise treated so that it is unsuitable for sale or for use other than as a sample."

Under this provision, samples can be imported duty free if:

  • The samples are valued less than $1, or
  • If the samples are valued more than $1, they must be marked as samples and treated in a manner that would render them unsuitable for resale

Merchandise must be marked permanently as a “sample,” or cut or torn in such a manner that is visible. Additional marking and defacing requirements for textile products and footwear are also in place. In addition, other requirements may be enforced depending on the type of fabric, size, and other considerations.

Commercial documents must show a value for the samples, even if they are being provided to the importer at no cost or have no commercial value. The commercial document must include the statement “mutilated samples – 9811.00.60” to ensure duty free treatment. Samples must typically be destroyed or donated to a charity or other non-commercial entities after use. Importers are not permitted to sell them or reconstitute them into articles that are suitable for sale.

2: Regular entry

An importer can choose to import their samples as a regular customs entry. The importer may have to pay duties and taxes depending on the HTS and duty rate, and must follow all the regulations and requirements for the customs entry. However, the goods would be able to remain in the United States indefinitely and the importer would retain the right to sell the samples after use.

If the commercial sample’s value is less than $800, an importer can take advantage of entry type 86, which allows for goods valued under $800 to be imported free of duties, taxes, and fees. The goods are eligible if they are not subject to antidumping, countervailing, quota, or do not require additional fees or IRS taxes to be paid.

Temporary importation options

If the importer is bringing in samples to solicit sales or exhibiting the goods at a tradeshow, then a temporary importation may be a good fit.

Temporary Importation under Bond (TIB)

Commercial samples may be admitted under a Temporary Importation under Bond (TIB), which temporarily permits the importation of goods into the United States free of duty when the importer posts a bond. TIBs can be used to temporarily import commercial samples for exclusive purpose of soliciting orders of the merchandise.

Goods imported under a TIB must not be sold or offered for sale and must be exported or destroyed within one year from date of importation. Extensions can be requested for additional one-year periods, not exceeding three years total. There are additional risks associated with TIB entries. Failure to export or destroy them prior to the expiration date will result in liquidated damages equal to double the estimated duties for the samples.

Discover C.H. Robinson’s recent insight on TIBs: Are You Paying More in Duty Than Necessary?


Carnets are another option when temporarily importing commercial samples to solicit orders. A carnet is both a customs bond and customs entry documentation, and it is purchased in advance of the shipment exporting the origin country. This simplifies the customs process and allows a company to make arrangements for customs clearance in advance and can be used in several countries.

The United States accepts only two types of carnets:

  • ATA Carnets: Accepted by more than eighty countries, the ATA carnet is a good option to bring commercial samples into the United States duty free for the purpose of soliciting orders.
  • TECRO/AIT Carnets: These carnets are specific to a bilateral trade agreement between the United States. and Taiwan.

Carnets are only valid for one year. If it is anticipated that the carnet will be used to solicit an order longer than that timeframe, a TIB may be a better choice.

Goods imported under a carnet cannot be sold. However, if goods imported under a carnet are sold, the importer would be required to pay not only the duties, fees, and taxes on the goods but also a penalty equal to 10% of the duties and taxes owed for some or all of the sold goods.

Importation of prototypes

Prototypes may be imported duty free in limited noncommercial quantities under HTS 9817.85.01. Prototypes in varying production stages can be imported for development, testing, product evaluation, or quality control purposes under this provision. CBP may request the importer to provide a proof of actual use within three years of importation.

Sale of prototypes or any of their parts is typically restricted but may be permitted in certain scenarios as permitted by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Goods that are subject to quantitative restrictions or antidumping or countervailing order may not be imported under the prototype provisions.

How to choose which option is best

Consider some of these factors before importing the commercial samples:

  • What is the purpose of the samples—quality review and testing, product evaluation, sales opportunities?
  • Will the supplier be able to comply with the sample marking and defacing requirements under HTS 9811.00.60?
  • How long will these samples need to be in the United States?
  • Will there be potential opportunities to sell the samples once imported?
  • Will the goods be able to be exported within the prescribed amount of time if imported under a TIB or carnet?
  • Do the goods qualify as a prototype as per CBP’s definition?

How can C.H. Robinson help?

C.H. Robinson’s team of knowledgeable Trusted Advisor® experts can assist you with reviewing the options for importing your commercial samples. Connect with one of our trade policy experts to learn more.

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Section 301 - Unfair trade practices

What is it?

Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 — Allows the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to suspend trade agreement concessions or impose import restrictions if it determines a U.S. trading partner is violating trade agreement commitments or engaging in discriminatory or unreasonable practices that burden or restrict U.S. commerce.

Background ReportCongressional Research Service – Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 – August 2020

Section 232 - National security concerns

What is it?

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962—Allows the president to adjust imports if the Department of Commerce finds certain products are imported in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair U.S. national security.

Background ReportCongressional Research Service – Section 232 Investigations: Overview and Issues for Congress – August 2020

Section 201 – Cause/threat to domestic industry

What is it?

Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974—Allows the president to impose temporary duties and other trade measures if the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) determines a surge in imports is a substantial cause or threat of serious injury to a U.S. industry.

Background ReportCongressional Research Service – Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 – August 2018

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Trade & Tariff FAQs

Q: What is a tariff?

Tariffs or duties are taxes assessed on imports of foreign goods, paid by the importer to the U.S. government, and collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Current U.S. tariff rates may be found in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) maintained by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to regulate foreign commerce and therefore impose tariffs, but, through various trade laws, Congress has delegated authority to the president to modify tariffs and other trade restrictions under certain circumstances.1

Q: What are various types of import restrictions that can be imposed by the government?

Tariffs – A tax on imports of foreign goods paid by the importer. Ad valorem tariffs are assessed as a percentage of the value of the import (e.g., a tax of 25% on the value of an imported truck). Specific tariffs are assessed at a fixed rate based on the quantity of the import (e.g. 7.7% per kilogram of imported almonds), and are most common on agricultural imports.

Quotas – A restriction on the total allowable amount of imports based either on the quantity or value of goods imported. Quotas are in place on a limited number of U.S. imports, mostly agricultural commodities, in part due to past trade agreements to remove and prohibit them.

Tariff-Rate Quota (TRQ) –TRQs involve a two-tiered tariff scheme in which the tariff rate changes depending on the level of imports. Below a specific value or quantity of imports, a lower tariff rate applies. Once this threshold is reached, all additional imports face a higher, sometimes prohibitive, tariff rate.

Q: Have U.S. trading partners taken or proposed retaliatory trade actions?

Yes. Some U.S. trading partners subject to the additional U.S. import restrictions have taken or announced proposed retaliations against each of the three U.S. actions. Since April 2018, a number of retaliatory tariffs have been imposed on U.S. goods accounting for $126 billion of U.S. annual exports, using 2017 export values.

Q: How much has the U.S. government collected from the various trade remedy measures?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assesses and collects duties on U.S. imports, including the additional duties imposed as a result of the president’s tariff actions. As of September 9, 2020, U.S. CBP has reported the following duty assessments.

Q: Are products of Hong Kong subject to the additional Section 301 duties against China?

No. Additional duties imposed by the Section 301 remedy only apply to articles that are products of the People’s Republic of China (ISO Country Code CN). Imported goods that are legitimately the product of Hong Kong (HK) or Macau (MO) are not subject to the additional Section 301 duties. Please note that Section 301 duties are based on country of origin, not country of export.2

Q: Are Section 301 duties eligible for drawback?

As noted in CSMS Message 18-000419, Section 301 duties are eligible for duty drawback. Drawback is the refund of certain duties, internal revenue taxes, and certain fees collected upon the importation of goods. Such refunds are only allowed upon the exportation or destruction of goods under U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervision.

Q: What is the timing of duty calculations on immediate transportation in bond entries subject to Section 301?

Duties are due on goods that are entered for consumption, or withdrawn from warehouse for consumption, on or after the effective date of the provisional tariffs. For entries covered by an entry for immediate transportation, and with a country of origin of China, and a Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification covered by Annex A to the FRN, such entries shall be subject to the duty rates in effect when the immediate transportation entry was accepted at the port of original importation, pursuant to 19 CFR 141.69 (b), which states:
Merchandise which is not subject to a quantitative or tariff-rate quota and which is covered by an entry for immediate transportation made at the port of original importation, if entered for consumption at the port designated by the consignee or his agent in such transportation entry without having been taken into custody by the port director for general order under section 490, Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1490), shall be subject to the rates in effect when the immediate transportation entry was accepted at the port of original importation.

Q: Are products entered under the Section 321 de minimis exemption (under $800) subject to Section 301 duties?

No, not right now. Goods properly entered under Section 321 are not subject to Section 301 duties. Please note that a formal entry is required if a shipment contains merchandise subject to AD/CVD. Goods subject to AD/CVD do not qualify for Section 321. Something to keep an eye on: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) submitted a proposal in early September 2020 to the Office of Management and Budget that would eliminate the $800 de minimis exemption for goods subject to Section 301 tariffs. Remember, Section 321, 19 USC 1321 is the statute that describes de minimis. De minimis provides admission of articles free of duty and of any tax imposed on or by reason of importation, but the aggregate fair retail value in the country of shipment of articles imported by one person on one day and exempted from the payment of duty shall not exceed $800. The de minimis threshold was previously $200, but increased with the passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA).

Q: Can I still apply for exclusions to the Section 301 (China) tariffs?

The time window to submit new exclusion requests is now closed, but the USTR is considering extensions of exclusions granted from Lists 1, 2, 3, and 4. While the USTR approved, on average, 35% of requests under the first two actions, the approval rates under the third and fourth actions were 5% and 7%, respectively.3 Be sure to check in with your trusted trade advisors to see if new comment periods open.

Q: Are products used to support the fight against COVID-19 subject to the additional Section 301 (China) tariffs?

The USTR announced on March 20, 2020, that, prior to theCOVID-19 outbreak, the agency had been working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “to ensure that critical medicines and other essential medical products were not subject to additional Section 301 tariffs.” Consequently, the United States had not imposed tariffs on certain critical products, such as ventilators, oxygen masks, and nebulizers. Moreover, the USTR indicated that, in recent months, it has prioritized the review of requests for exclusions on medical care products, resulting in exclusions granted on basic medical supplies, including gloves, soaps, face masks, surgical drapes, and hospital gowns. Since March 2020, the USTR has exempted certain medical products from Section 301 tariffs in several rounds of exclusions.3

Q: How do I find out if my product is subject to Section 301 tariff duties?

Enter the product’s harmonized tariff schedule (HTS) classification on the USTR website. In addition, you can refer to our exclusive guide to quickly search both the Section 301 tariff lists but also identify if there are any exclusion opportunities. Talk to your Trusted Advisor® expert at C.H. Robinson to learn more.

Q: Do Section 301 (China) duties still apply if I ship goods to another country, such as Canada or Mexico, and have them packaged there before entering the commerce of the United States?

Yes. Basic changes/processes such as packaging, cleaning, and sorting would not change the country of origin to be declared in most cases. The origin would still be China and therefore the Section 301 duties would still apply.

Q: If I previously paid Section 301 (China) duties, but an exclusion was later issued by the United States Trade Representative (USTR), can I get my money back?

Yes. You have the opportunity to potentially recover duties paid on previous entry activity. Your customs broker, trade attorney, or trade consultant can submit a refund request via Post Summary Correction (PSC) or Protest as long as the entry has not exceeded the liquidation date plus 180-day time period (roughly 480 days from the original entry date). Remember, your company doesn’t have to be the one that requested the exclusion in the first place. You qualify as long as your product meets the specific description of the exclusion granted by the USTR.

Q: Does U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pay interest when refunding duties previously paid?

Yes! CBP does pay interest from the date the original money was deposited. The current interest rates are published in the Federal Register on a quarterly basis. Review the most recent Federal Register Notice for the latest rates.


1. Congressional Research Service – Trump Administration Tariff Actions (Sections 201, 232, and 301): FAQs

2. Section 301 Trade Remedies Frequently Asked Questions

3. Congressional Research Service - Section 301: Tariff Exclusions on U.S. Imports from China

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