Thank you for the clarification. Ill be glad to assist you with your
revised question. As I understand it, youre in need of 1) some
direction as to how to structure a letter proposing the importation
into the United States of a new commodity that is not currently being
imported, as well as a 2)steer to a source of historical rulings from
the Customs Service.
First, heres a brief review or refresher of the information Im sure
you already know:
All goods that enter the United States are categorized according to
the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. The act of placing goods into the
correct category is called classification. Classification determines
how much duty will be collected. Classification is more than simply
looking up an item in an index. It is a very complicated process
requiring the application of the General Rules of Interpretation; the
section, chapter and subheading notes; and the Explanatory Notes. The
importer is responsible for properly classifying his merchandise
If he is not sure how to properly classify an item, he can submit a
request, in writing, for a binding classification ruling to the
National Commodity Specialist Division, U.S. Customs, Attn:
Classification Ruling Requests, New York, NY 10048. The rulings will
be binding at all ports of entry unless revoked by the Headquarters'
Office of Regulations and Rulings.
If an importer is not satisfied with the binding ruling received from
New York, he or she can appeal it to the Headquarters' Office of
Regulations and Rulings, Washington, DC 20229. The Customs Service
will not issue binding rulings in response to oral requests. Import
Specialists can give oral advisory rulings but the
classification-related opinions or advice of Customs Service personnel
at one port are not binding on the Customs ports elsewhere. Oral
inquiries may be made to Customs offices regarding existing binding
rulings that might cover your importation. Binding rulings may also be
researched on the Customs web site at www.customs.gov
The U.S. Customs website states it thus:
A ruling is a written statement issued by Custom's Headquarters or
the appropriate office of Customs that interprets the laws of Customs
as they apply to a specific commodity. Generally, rulings can only be
requested from Customs for future or prospective transactions.
.... Each ruling request must contain a complete statement about the
details of the transaction, including the name and address of the
supplier and a technical description of the commodity. (From:
Also, the letter should give 1) the country of origin of the
merchandise; 2) the composition of the merchandise; 3) a full and
complete description of the article; and 4) the intended use of the
item. (From the Importers Reasonable Care Checklist:
The U.S. Customs, website, gives the following instructions:
A request for a ruling should be in the form of a letter.
Requests for Valuation and Carrier rulings should be addressed to:
The Commissioner of Customs
Attention: Office of Regulations and Rulings
Washington, DC 20229.
(The Division and Branch in the Office of Regulations and Rulings to
which the request should be directed may also be indicated, if known.)
**Requests for tariff classification rulings should be addressed to:
Director, National Commodity Specialist Division
Attn: CIE/Ruling Request
One Penn Plaza-10th Floor
New York, NY 10119
or to any service port office of the Customs Service.
The current Commissioner of Customs is Robert C. Bonner
I have been unable to locate the name of the current Director of the
National Commodity Specialist Division.
The Customs website suggests you might address your letter to your
nearest port service center. However, current information says that
is no longer the case:
Customs has fortunately resumed the Customs Binding Rulings Program
where the National Import Specialists are located in New York City.
Ruling requests should now be submitted to Director, National
Commodity Specialist Division, United States Customs, Attn: CIE/Ruling
Request, One Penn. Plaza, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10119.
Be advised Customs is considering no longer allowing advance ruling
requests to be issued by the individual ports of entry, but only from
the National Commodity Specialist Division in New York. Similarly
under consideration, Internal Advice requests and Requests for Further
Review on Protests would be forwarded to the National Import
Specialists in New York, rather than to Customs Headquarters in
Washington, D.C. http://www.becker-poliakoff.com/publications/newsletters/gtc/winter02/washington_beat.html
In summary, as to the actual structuring of the letter:
-Use your companys (or attorneys) letterhead
-Include the addressee and date in the heading
-Use standard formal business format for salutation, i.e. Dear Mr.
(or Ms. Name: (if known) or Dear Commissioner/; or Dear
-Summarize your request in the first paragraph
-Break down the details by paragraph. Include any and all information
in whatever form is most appropriate (i.e. bulleted lists, tables,
spreadsheets, etc.)to cover the above given required elements, while
doing so as concisely as possible. Include attachments if necessary,
so noting such enclosures at the end of the letter as a list, e.g.
Enclosures: Spreadsheet of estimated values
Drawing of proposed item, etc.
-Conclude with your request for a binding ruling. Give any contact
names/information not already included in your letterhead
-Use a formal standard closing, e.g. In awaiting your decision, I/we
are Yours very truly, following by your signature(s) above your
Keep copies for yourselves, and be sure to send the letter by
certified mail, return receipt requested.
2) Historical data on over 90,000 Customs rulings can be found at this
searchable online database, the Customs Rulings Online Search System
(CROSS): http://rulings.customs.gov/ There are also some related
links provided. However, they do include this note: Please be aware
that not all rulings issued by HQ and NY since 1989 are yet included
in the database. They are still being collected and we hope to have
100% inclusion as soon as practicable.
Search the Legal Precedent Retrieval System OR download the Legal
Precedent Retrieval System delimited database:
Customs Bulletins and Decisions:
Article on Reasonable Care concept:
If anything is unclear, or if I have misunderstood your needs, please
do ask for clarification before rating/closing the answer, so I may
have the opportunity to ensure your satisfaction. Best of luck to you
and your client in your venture.
Search terms used:
customs binding rulings program
commissioner of customs
director national commodity specialist division
rulings request customs
Clarification of Answer by
27 Jan 2003 07:35 PST
I'm sorry; I apparently did somewhat misunderstand what you were
looking for. Certainly, I didn't mean to insult your intelligence
with tips on how to write a letter since you obviously already know!
However, you'd be surprised how many people do need assistance with
things like that. In any case, I'd hoped a listing of the elements
that U.S. Customs states are necessary to include in your request,
with appropriate source citations, would suffice.
No, I haven't undertaken this process myself, though I have had
dealings with my local customs office over questions of what/how to
classify certain items for importation, as well as having some
experience perusing various customs publications for that purpose,
including the HTSUS. It's a complicated business, made even more so
if you're proposing an item not previously classified.
Your suggestions for points to include are good ones, and it seems to
me you already have a fairly good grasp of the challenge you face.
After searching unsuccessfully for an official Customs definition of
the word "commodity," I've come to the conclusion, based on official
usage in a number of contexts, including inclusion within the HTSUS,
that the word is used in its classic dictionary sense of "an article
of trade or commerce." There are shades of meaning, of course, and if
you'd like to check those out to be sure you've covered all possible
aspects of the question as to whether your article is a commodity per
se, here are links to various definitions of the word. However, it
would seem that just about anything that can be bought and sold would
fall under this broad definition somewhere.
Also, just for your information, here's a link to the glossary of
customs terms, with citations of the appropriate sections of the CFR:
As to demonstrating trade, certainly you would need to include the
planned and/or potential uses for the product/article. If I were
doing this myself, I'd think of possibly including letters of interest
from potential buyers of your product to demonstrate a demand in this
country for what you propose to import, as well as perhaps results of
a market study showing the same. This could also help to show that a
need exists that isn't being currently met by existing
sources/manufacturers/importers. In addition, if you have any sales
figures, real or projected, here or elsewhere, for your product or a
similar one, that might also be helpful.
A citation of past rulings on similar articles would be mandatory, I
would think. If the ruling(s) were favorable, its inclusion would
strengthen your case; if it were unfavorable, it would give you a
starting point for an argument as to why your particular proposal is
different and should receive approval.
One other aspect you might consider including would be a suggestion
(properly supported of course, by reference to past rulings and/or the
HTSUS) as to the proper potential classification of your commodity.
Anything that could save time and/or work for the customs officer
assigned to your request would likely work in your favor as far as
obtaining the ruling you seek.
Again, I'm sorry I can't provide you with the personal experience you
were hoping for. I would, however, recommend you consult with a
professional, such as an attorney experienced in foreign trade, or at
least a local customs official at your nearest port service office,
for a final going-over or proof of your letter before sending it in.
This service is free, and your local official might have some
potentially useful advice to give. Even a phone call could yield some
excellent tips. If you don't know where/whom to contact, here are
some links that can help you locate your nearest office:
Ports of Entry: http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/toolbox/contacts/ports/
Oh yes, there's one other thing I wanted to mention. That is, the
U.S. Customs has recently changed its online presence. Previously, it
was included in the U.S. Treasury Dept.'s website, but it now has its
own. What makes this tricky is that many of the links currently
available on search engines, including Google, are still using the old
urls, i.e. "www.customs.ustreas.gov," which are no longer valid. To
find just about any Customs information now, you will need to access
their main page ( http://www.customs.gov ) and use either their "Help"
section or their internal search engine. If you do an external search
on customs matters, just be aware of the change and save yourself a
lot of aggravation by not clicking on any links with the old url.
Thank you for the opportunity to assist you with this very interesting
question. I hope I was able to be of some help and wish you good