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International convention and customs procedures of the United States

International Conventions
Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Party to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Party to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer
Party to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls For Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies
Party to the International Coffee Agreement
International Economic Cooperation
The United States is a member of the following international economic organisations: G-7, G-10, G-20, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), WTO, IMF, OECD, ICC, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates the United States click here. International organisation membership of the United States is also outlined here.
Non Tariff Barriers
Farm products are subject to both FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and USDA (U.S. Agricultural Department) rules.
- Dairy products require an import license. Quotas are in place. Products must conform to the strict sanitary and labelling rules and a description of ingredients is also required.
- Most fruits, vegetables and hazelnuts are subject to import licenses. The APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) analyses the risks of disease.
- Meat-based products can only be imported via ports with checking sanitary installations authorised by the USDA. The APHIS examines all goods.

Nearly 20% of all imports into the U.S. are food and food products. In 2002, Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (Bioterrorism Act), which, among other things, required the FDA to develop two systems: one to support the registration of facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food products intended for consumption in the United States and one to receive prior notice before food is imported or offered for import into the United States. Prior notice must be submitted electronically at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Manufactured goods should also conform to American standards, which imply potential additional costs. Electric equipment should be systematically guaranteed by a third party. There are no less than 2,700 municipal or federal authorities able to distribute safety certifications and they vary from state to state. As there is no central source of information about these normative aspects, it is imperative to enquire beforehand with the help of an importer.

Whatever the nature of the product, documentation is important- especially in terms of the invoice and certificate of origin. The documentary formalities are notably very heavy for textile imports (all products comprising above 5% in the composition of the textile product should be listed very precisely). The labelling rules can also generate substantial additional costs.

The U.S. applies a certain number of embargoes, forbidding the import of products manufactured with components originating from several countries. For a list of countries for which the U.S. applies an embargo (full or partial), visit the U.S. Department of the Treasury's website.

Customs Duties and Taxes on Imports
Until recently, the U.S. applied a customs tariff that is among the lowest in the world (on average, 3.5%). Yet following an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods, as of May 2019, the United States has one of the highest tariff rate of all developed countries, with a trade-weighted tariff rate of 4.2%.
Customs Classification
The U.S. applies the harmonised customs system (harmonised tariff schedule). Tariffs and classification depend on the origin of the products.
Import Procedures
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) import requirements apply to anyone bringing foreign items into the United States. While CBP does not require an importer to have a license or permit to import goods from a foreign country, any item crossing the border into the United States is subject to customs clearance and customs duties unless specifically exempted. To obtain customs clearance from CBP, importers and their goods must take the necessary entry, examination, valuation, classification and clearance measures.
Among the documents needed to import there are:

  • Entry Manifest or Application and Special Permit for Immediate Delivery or other form of merchandise release required by the port director,
  • Evidence of right to make entry,
  • Commercial invoice or a pro forma invoice when the commercial invoice cannot be produced,
  • Packing lists,
  • Other documents necessary to determine merchandise admissibility.

Import procedures are subject to a specific process. For more information, consult Tips for New Importers on CBP's Website.
Further information on import and customs clearance procedure is available on the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Importing Samples

The main options to import your commercial samples into the US:

  • Duty Free Consumption Entries: goods may possibly enter the US with regular consumption entry stipulations, but free of any duties. This applies to small amounts of consumption samples, including: alcohol samples, tobacco samples, and samples not valued over 1$.
  • Temporary Importation Under Bond (TIB): Samples entering under this procedure may enter into the US duty free by “posting a bond”, This bond is submitted by the importer, agreeing to export or destroy the sample within a specific time period
  • Carnets: For the import, export and re-export of commercial samples an ATA (Temporary Admission) book can be used. It must be written on the product that it is a free sample and that it may not be sold.

To go further, check out our service Import controls and Export controls.

For Further Information
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Department of Commerce
U.S. State Department

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Latest Update: April 2024

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