Determining Origin

By: Elizabeth Baldwin

Credit: NWFA https://hardwoodfloorsmag.com/2021/12/20/determining-origin/

Last time I talked about “MUSA” – Made in USA Claims. Let’s dig a bit deeper into origin issues.

Origin is a legal definition for Customs and it doesn’t always make sense for us regular folk. As noted, when talking about MUSA issues, making flooring in the U.S. out of foreign plywood doesn’t qualify for a MUSA label. And that concept carries through. If you ship Russian plywood to Italy and turn it into flooring, the finished product for Custom’s purposes is still Russia.

This is important to understand for many reasons. The obvious one is that Customs wants to know that goods have entered the country correctly. But country of origin impacts a lot of other trade issues like dumping or 301 tariffs. Sending plywood from China to another country to be used for engineered flooring is a circumvention of both dumping and 301 tariffs. While it seems to be less common an act than in years past, this practice seems to still be happening.

It certainly can be hard to uncover this without a visit, but there are scientific tests you can conduct to attempt to determine species utilized and their origin. You can also dig into the paperwork to see where raw material inputs are coming from. Some countries sell customs data which you might find. You can also try to check other records – glue purchases for example. You can ask for pictures or videos. There are many other techniques that good creative importers have used. I know of one importer who actually checked electrical power payments to see if the power usage made sense.

One document that a number of importers will rely on is a TSCA Title VI certificate. That certainly can be useful as long as it is real. But they aren’t always real – remember in 2018 I blogged about a forged certificate that was created to attempt to hide origin. And even when they are real, they may not tell the full story. These are process, not product, certifications. A legitimate TSCA certificate means that “this facility has the capability to produce compliant material.” It doesn’t mean that the facility is doing so or is only doing so. It is not a guarantee that other materials are not being utilized. In the end, a TSCA certificate is another piece of paper that you need to verify the legitimacy of.

And think about how much Origin accuracy will impact other things. Yes, Customs cares. Yes, the wrong origin might mean there is circumvention of a duty. But what else can the wrong origin indicate?

It might imply TSCA fraud. If the factory isn’t using the plywood they said they were, then you have not met the required administrative burdens under TSCA.

It might mean a Lacey violation. If they told you they were using Vietnamese Acacia and it was actually Chinese Eucalyptus and that’s what you entered, you are now guilty of a Lacey violation.

Suppose you have an air quality certification with that particular factory? That document might be invalid too because it will be based on false information. Suddenly you are making inaccurate statements to customers about the certification status of the flooring.

And these issues can go past the importer. I’ve talked before about how certain responsibilities and liabilities stop with the importer. If they use the wrong HTS code or mis-declare origin, that’s only on them. But a Lacey violation or a TSCA VI violation or a fraudulent label can all impact a distributor or a retailer.

So, make sure you know the full story as to the origin of your floors – you don’t want to mis-represent a product for any reason. Be it Russian plywood in Italy, Chinese plywood in Vietnam, or Polish plywood in the USA, those details matter!

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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