Corpses, Telecom and Space Junk: Exceptions to HTS Classification

Posted on July 16, 2018

Unless someone has experience in the trade compliance world, they would be hard pressed to find a similarity between the items listed above. However, to someone familiar with Title 19 of the Code of Federal Regulations, these articles go together like a well-matched set of luggage. These items, along with a few others, are among those that are not subject to the tariff schedule of the United States.

The Tariff of the United States is a comprehensive listing of every type of item and its corresponding HTS code and duty rate. In general, all items that are imported into the U.S. need to be classified and assigned an HTS code, however there are a few exceptions. These exceptions can be found in General Note 3(e) of the Harmonized Tariff System of the United States and they are as follows:

          “(i) corpses, together with their coffins and accompanying flowers, (ii) telecommunications transmissions, (iii) records, diagrams and other data with regard to any business, engineering or exploration operation whether on paper, cards, photographs, blueprints, tapes or other media, (iv) articles returned from space within the purview of section 484a of the Tariff Act of 1930, (v) articles exported from the United States which are returned within 45 days after such exportation from the United States as undeliverable and which have not left the custody of the carrier or foreign customs service, (vi) any aircraft part or equipment that was removed from a Unites States-registered aircraft while being used abroad in international traffic because of accident, breakdown or emergency that was returned to the Unites States within 45 days after removal, and that did not leave the custody of the carrier or foreign customs service while abroad, and (vii) residue of bulk cargo contained in instruments of international traffic previously exported from the United States,”

This states that only and specifically the items listed above are exempted from classification and duty, and everything else must be classified. There are clear reasons why some articles are exempt such as out of respect in the case of corpses, or privacy in the case of business records, or impossibility in the case of airborne telecommunication transmissions. However, some articles are exempt because of what it took to get them. When the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission returned to Earth on July 24, 1969 they had cargo to declare to CBP officials - “moon rock and moon dust samples.” (See General Declaration below). While this was a bit of a joke at the time, the point remains that not even Buzz Aldrin was exempt from declaring his cargo to customs. This rule would later go on to be changed to include ‘articles returned from space’ on the list of items exempted from classification as listed in the paragraph above, however it is important to note this is one of only a few exceptions.

Therefore, unless the item your company is importing is specifically listed in General Note 3(e) of the Tariff you will need to consult the pages of the HTSUS for its 10-digit code and corresponding rate of duty. No one gets a free pass from the CBP, not even astronauts.

Original CBP Declaration Form from the astronauts returning from the Apollo 11 mission

Contributor: Ryan Smith

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