CBP Drops Plan To Delay Tariff Payment During COVID-19

Law360 (March 26, 2020, 5:14 PM EDT) -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Thursday walked back its days-old proposal to allow companies more time to pay import duties during the novel coronavirus outbreak in the wake of stern backlash from domestic steel producers.

Just six days after CBP told importers it would consider delaying tariff payments on a case-by-case basis, the agency issued a new bulletin to "notify the trade community that CBP is no longer accepting requests for additional days for payment."

CBP said any owed duties that were not paid in the wake of its initial tariff delay announcement will be due to the agency by March 27. Although CBP is abandoning its duty payment flexibility regarding COVID-19 specifically, it did say it will keep its overall rules regarding payment extensions in place.

"CBP will retain the right to allow additional days for narrow circumstances, including a physical inability to file entry or payments, due to technology outages or port closures," it said.

The agency's announcement of potential tariff payment delays drew an immediate rebuke from the U.S. steel industry, which has been among the most forceful advocates for aggressive enforcement of U.S. trade laws.

"Any efforts to delay or reduce the collection of duties on unfairly traded steel imports or imports that threaten to impair U.S. national and economic security will ultimately hurt U.S. workers and businesses during this unprecedented moment," a coalition of steel groups wrote in a letter to the administration this week.

The CBP did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on what prompted the change.

The whipsawing by the agency marked the latest turn in the administration's closely watched trade policy response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Scores of importers and retailers have asked for the administration to ease its import duties to blunt the economic blowback of the outbreak. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has exempted certain Chinese medical equipment from duties, but companies are nevertheless urging the White House to go bigger with an across-the-board tariff reduction plan.

President Donald Trump has publicly dismissed the idea of tariff reduction as part of his coronavirus strategy, while White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has floated an executive order that will strengthen "Buy American" government procurement rules for drugs and medical devices as a means of reducing the government's reliance on imports.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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