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How Important is it to Screen Your Suppliers? Ask ZTE.

A smartphone being used as a GPS on a car dashboard.

I recently took an Uber in New York City and noticed that the drivers tend to have their smartphones mounted on their dash to allow them to use city maps. What humored me was seeing that my driver didn’t have the most common iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device, instead he had a Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) smartphone. I chuckled at the irony and thought, “well that’s the last ZTE phone he’ll ever own,” at least for the next seven years.

ZTE is the fourth-largest smartphone vendor in the U.S. and sells to major mobile carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint [1]. As the second largest telecommunication provider in China, they are a manufacturer and integrator of networking apparatuses and handheld devices [2]. The most common ZTE models include the Tempo X, Prestige 2, and Majesty Pro.

Not All Press is Good Press

Throughout the last couple of years, ZTE has made U.S. trade compliance news multiple times, but on April 20, 2018 they made headlines in bold font. ZTE had the unfortunate honor of achieving the highest export monetary penalty issued by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at $1.9 billion. This penalty was originally issued in March 2017 but ZTE was granted monetary deferrals and delays of suspensions, therefore April 20, 2018 was the official activation date.

Along with this hefty financial penalty, ZTE is no longer able to receive products from the United States. The impact of this on ZTE has been so substantial to its bottom line that they have had to halt operations [3].

So how does this apply to the Uber driver with his ZTE smartphone? Now that ZTE is frozen from receiving exports from the U.S.—or on behalf of the U.S.—his friendly retailer can no longer purchase from ZTE.

Why? Multiple exports occur in order to buy handheld devices from ZTE.

Export one: The retailer needs to request making a purchase, likely by email.

Export two: Then they will need to send a purchase order.

Export three: Finally, they must pay for the devices to be shipped from China, or a third party.

In between these transactions, there may have been additional communication by email or phone, which are all exports and are therefore banned.

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grapples with the conflict between consumer interest and regulatory compliance, ZTE device owners have to wonder, will they be able to receive operating system downloads [4]?

Why ZTE Was Issued This Penalty

ZTE received components and equipment from the U.S. that were then transshipped to Iran and North Korea. In some cases, these products were not transformed but were shipped as is, and in other cases, they were put into telecommunications equipment to modernize the capabilities of the respective country—i.e. Iran and North Korea. This was a direct violation of U.S. sanctions.

Export compliance consultants and practitioners everywhere have been screaming, “screen your suppliers,” and now ZTE has given us a tangible example of why it is so crucial to practice export compliance within the supply chain.

The Nature of Their Deceit

It started back around January 2010, when ZTE began bidding on two Iranian projects where they would install cellular and landline network infrastructure. Through 2016 those contracts resulted in the illegal transfer of approximately $32,000,000 of U.S.-origin items, which were installed and used in Iran. During this time, it was also discovered that ZTE made 283 shipments of U.S. products to North Korea, these shipments included routers, microprocessors, servers, etc.

ZTE’s senior management knew they were in the wrong. In the summer of 2012, they required each employee involved with sales to Iran to sign nondisclosure agreements in which the employees agreed to keep all information related to the company’s exports to Iran confidential [5]. This resulted in employees providing false end user details to U.S. exporters and manufacturers.

During the two settlements in 2016 and 2017, ZTE had assured that all employees would be trained on compliance with U.S. export regulations and process updates. They also advised that internal audits would be conducted, and most importantly, top executives directly involved in the sales to North Korean and Iran would be disciplined for their actions, including the possibility of dismissal and at minimum a loss of bonuses. Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce (DOC) followed up with ZTE on the 2016 settlement requirements (internal audits, discipline of senior managers, implementation of compliance processes in line with U.S. regulations), as ZTE was allowed to continue business with the United States—a case of the U.S. attempting to maintain a flow of commerce—with the assumption that they would fulfill these requirements. However, ZTE failed to comply and falsely stated that all requirements were met, which has led to their current situation [6].

The Impact on U.S. Exporters

Not only is the ZTE ruling a hindrance to those who sell to or purchase from ZTE, but it is also impacting legal, legitimate, and profitable business for U.S. suppliers. As a manufacturer, ZTE has been involved in the modernization of telecommunication networks in many countries. For the U.S. exporter, sometimes ZTE is their customer and at other times, they are simply the middle man—the integrator, installer or operator. The ban on exports not only forbids new sales to ZTE, it also halts any pre-existing contracts, if ZTE is listed or known as an intermediary party on those contracts, mainly to entities that are based around Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

U.S. corporations must consider the impact this will have on ongoing services and maintenance requirements of existing telecommunications systems involving ZTE. If ZTE is the operator and has sold maintenance services to end users, ZTE is no longer able to purchase parts from the U.S.—directly or indirectly—or receive technical information to conduct that service or maintenance.

The Moral of the Story

We all understand that diverting goods to Iran or North Korea is against U.S. sanctions, but why was there such a hefty penalty? Well, ZTE had its own Hollywood-style-drama of lies and deceit which included making false statements to U.S. and Chinese attorneys and investigators, falsifying customs documentation, and mixing U.S. product with Chinese origin product in attempt to hide it.

What all of this tells us is just how important it is to ensure your vendors are compliant with U.S. export and import regulations. It also tells us to avoid single-sourcing providers, integrators, installers, etc. to help avoid major impacts to your business, if a situation like this arises.

A Chance for a Third Strike

After the April 20, 2018 penalty activation, ZTE did file documentation with the DOC again, stating they will train and audit their staff and processes, as well as discipline their senior team. The DOC has stated they are willing to see evidence.

Will ZTE have an opportunity for a third strike? With U.S. component—or chip—manufacturers suffering from a significant drop in export sales due to the inability to ship to ZTE, and the realization of possibly losing 75,000 jobs in Beijing China, we can expect ZTE to stay a topic of trade news for months to come. Also, due to the ongoing fear of a trade war with China, the BIS’s decision may be overturned by the Executive Branch.

President Trump has offered his assistance in resolving the issues between ZTE and the U.S. government [7]. How that help will be facilitated is unclear but does assure that ZTE will be a household name throughout 2018, with constant media attention. It is imperative for U.S. importers and exporter to stay current on trade news to assure compliance, as well as understand how these issues may impact their organization and bottom line.

MGTA’s import and export audit services can help you to uncover gaps in your compliance procedures. Contact Mohawk Global Trade Advisors to discuss how we can help you develop or improve your current import and export compliance programs.


Footnotes:

[1] “Company Overview,” ZTE USA. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <https://www.zteusa.com/about-us/>.

[2] Meyer, David, “One of the World’s Biggest Phone Firms Is Stopping Operations Because of a Ban on Buying U.S. Parts,” Fortune, May 10, 2018. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <http://fortune.com/2018/05/10/zte-components-china-technology-denial-order/>.

[3] Jiang, Sijia, “China’s ZTE Says Main Business Operations Cease Due to U.S. Ban,” Reuters, May 9, 2018. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-zte-ban/chinas-zte-says-main-business-operations-cease-due-to-u-s-ban-idUSKBN1IA1XF>.

[4] Dave, Paresh, & Shepardson, David, “China’s ZTE May Lose Android License as U.S. Market Woes Build,” Reuters, April 17, 2018. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fcc-china/chinas-zte-may-lose-android-license-as-u-s-market-woes-build-idUSKBN1HO2BD>.

[5] “ZTE Corporation Agrees to Plead Guilty and Pay over $430.4 Million for Violating U.S. Sanctions by Sending U.S.-Origin Items to Iran,” The United States Department of Justice, March 7, 2017. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/zte-corporation-agrees-plead-guilty-and-pay-over-4304-million-violating-us-sanctions-sending>.

[6] “Secretary Ross Announces Activation of ZTE Denial Order in Response to Repeated False Statements to the U.S. Government,” Department of Commerce, April 16, 2018. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2018/04/secretary-ross-announces-activation-zte-denial-order-response-repeated>.

[7] Trump, Donald J., Twitter, May 13, 2018. Retrieved on May 17, 2018 from <https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/995680316458262533>.


By Kristen Morneau, Senior Advisor

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©2018 Mohawk Global Trade Advisors

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Changes Allow for Duty Free Return of Foreign Goods

Faded containers and professional man writing

For years, U.S. buyers have found it difficult to return imported articles when products come in damaged or erroneously shipped. In the case of a return, importers have been required to pay additional duties and Merchandise Processing Fees (MPF) upon re-importation.

With that being said, there is good news for importers. Recent changes to U.S. tariff number 9801.00.10 allow for duty free return of foreign goods, according to the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 [1].

Conditions to Qualify

It is important to meet the following conditions to avoid paying duties a second time.

  • Goods must be returned within 3 years of initial export.
  • Duty drawback was not claimed on the original export.
  • The goods were not entered under bond or produced in a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ).
  • The article was not advanced in value or improved in condition while abroad [2].
  • The U.S. importer has proper documentation to support the claim.

Support Documentation

U.S. Customs is in the process of defining the required documents more clearly for 9801.00.10. In the meantime, it is vital for importers to have these documents on hand at time of entry to support their claim. These documents include

  • A Foreign Shipper’s Declaration and U.S. Importer’s Declaration
  • Some form of proof to demonstrate that the goods have been returned within 3 years, such as

- Export invoices
- Export bill of ladings
- Electronic Export Information filings (EEI)

On the bright side, these documents are already required records for exporters, making the process easier.

By meeting these conditions and having the supporting documents, the change to this tariff provision will save importers significant duties and MPF for their returning goods.

For assistance with developing processes and procedures for returning goods, contact Mohawk Global Trade Advisors.


Footnotes

[1] “Products of the United States when returned after having been exported, or any other products when returned within 3 years after having been exported, without having been advanced in value or improved in condition by any process of manufacture or other means while abroad.” Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (2016).

[2] The article was not altered in any way that might have made it into a new product or might have improved it while overseas.


By Jim Trubits, Vice President.

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©2016 Mohawk Global Trade Advisors

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Don’t Overlook Reasonable Care

One common misconception among U.S. importers is that they don’t have to worry about what’s on their commercial invoice and other import documentation. These importers will often neglect to provide their Customs broker with a truly complete product description or accurate country of origin because they don’t think they have to sweat the details. What they may not realize is that these types of requirements fall under the umbrella of what U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) refers to as “reasonable care.” Importers who do not attend to these crucial requirements risk delays in release of their goods, audits, and penalties.

Defining reasonable care

CBP expects all importers to exercise some form of caution (i.e. reasonable care) when dealing with [1]

  • import documentation
  • country of origin verification, marking, and labeling
  • tariff classification, valuation, and duty rates
  • quantity
  • free trade agreements
  • other government agencies
  • recordkeeping

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, importers must be careful with all details relating to these areas, as well as have written procedures to document their approach. In other words, as an importer, you should be able to prove to Customs that you provided and obtained the right information to meet these regulatory standards.

Is there a right way to manage my reasonable care?

CBP allows you flexibility in how you manage your reasonable care responsibilities. You can manage them yourself, use an expert (a licensed Customs broker, attorney, or accountant), or a combination of the two.

If you decide to use an expert, it is important to choose wisely. CBP expects you to qualify your expert by asking if their firm is a licensed Customs broker or, in the case of an attorney or accountant, if they have specialized knowledge or expertise in CBP matters. When in doubt, avoid taking advice from unregulated or unlicensed “experts,” as it will not serve in your defense during a CBP audit.

Once you’ve qualified your expert, it is crucial to provide him or her with complete and accurate information about the import transaction. Falling short of this requirement will lead CBP to view your company as lacking reasonable care.

What steps can I take?

Prior to import

  • Familiarize yourself with U.S. import requirements by reading informed compliance publications like, What Every Member of the Trade Community Should Know About: Reasonable Care [2].
  • Determine if there are any other government requirements for your imported products, such as an FDA Prior Notice for food products or additional labeling requirements for wearing apparel.
  • Bookmark the link to the online Harmonized Tariff Schedule for quick classification reference [3].
  • Consult with a licensed or certified expert, such as a Customs broker, attorney, or accountant.
  • Search CROSS, CBP’s online ruling database, to see if Customs has previously ruled on a product similar to yours [4]. Use this ruling as a guide for classifying, valuing, and marking your goods.
  • If after consulting with an expert and reviewing CROSS you are still in doubt of your product’s correct classification, origin, value, etc., seek a binding ruling from CBP. The beauty of a binding ruling is that it provides CBP and the importer with a definitive answer on these aspects of the product.
  • Document your processes for classification, origin verification, valuation, marking, etc. and provide employees with step-by-step instructions to achieve compliance. Keep procedures simple and easy to follow and them with your vendor and Customs broker.
  • Create a tariff database and share it with your broker to cut down on entry errors. Periodically review the database and provide your broker with any updates.
  • Issue purchase order instructions to your vendor that match your invoice requirements.

After import

  • Attend trade seminars and read newsletters to stay informed of changing requirements.
  • Review your commercial invoice or proforma invoice to make sure all requirements are met [5].
  • Verify that entries prepared by your broker are correct. If you find an error during a post entry review, correct it and work with your vendor and broker to prevent it from happening again.
  • Establish a recordkeeping program. Verify which documents should be kept, how long they should be retained, and how they should be stored.

Keeping up with your reasonable care responsibilities is not easy but with continued effort you will be able to show CBP that you’ve done your homework.

MGTA’s import audit service can help you to uncover gaps in your import procedures. Click here to learn more about our import audit services. Our import compliance programs can assist you in developing, improving, and enhancing your reasonable care policies and procedures. Click here to learn more about our import compliance programs.

Footnotes

[1] per U.S. Code Title 19, Section 1484(a)(1).
[2] See the list of Informed Compliance Publications, including Reasonable Care (A Checklist for Compliance), on U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s website, www.cbp.gov.
[3] View the Harmonized Tariff Schedule at www.usitc.gov/tata/hts/.
[4] See rulings.cbp.gov.
[5] For a complete list of requirements see 19 CFR 141.86-141.89 and 142.6.

By Jim Trubits, Vice President. Click here to read more about Jim.

©2012 Mohawk Global Trade Advisors

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