In response to a request for comments issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Southern Shrimp Alliance formally submitted extensive written comments in support of the agency’s proposal to modify and revoke a ruling letter issued in January 2017 regarding the country-of-origin of certain cooked shrimp imported into the United States.
On January 3, 2017, CBP issued a ruling letter (NY N281670) to Pescanova Inc. finding that frozen shrimp from India that was exported to Guatemala for cooking and peeling had been substantially transformed through its processing in Guatemala such that the appropriate country-of-origin of the cooked shrimp for marking purposes in the United States was Guatemala. This ruling was inconsistent with over three decades of previous CBP ruling letters finding that the peeling, cooking, and other minor processing of shrimp in a third country did not constitute a substantial transformation and did not change the country-of-origin of the shrimp from where it had been harvested.
In response to an inquiry from the National Fisheries Institute about this anomalous ruling, CBP revisited its holding and proposed to modify the ruling letter to conclude that Indian shrimp shipped to Guatemala for cooking had not been substantially transformed and remained a product of India for country-of-origin purposes. CBP published a notice in Customs Bulletin and Decisions at the end of May providing an opportunity for parties to comment on the proposed modification and revocation.
In its comments to CBP filed last week, the Southern Shrimp Alliance summarized the long history of consistent country-of-origin rulings on shrimp harvested in one country and processed in another, beginning with a ruling letter (HQ 731472) issued on June 23, 1988 holding that imported shrimp peeled and deveined in a U.S. processing plant had not been substantially transformed into a U.S. product. Less than a year later, CBP extended that holding in a ruling letter (HQ 731763) issued on May 17, 1989 informing the National Fisheries Institute that imported shrimp cooked in a U.S. processing plant had not been substantially transformed into a U.S. product.
Since 1989, CBP has been asked to issue ruling letters on shrimp landed in U.S. waters and exported to foreign countries for minor processing, shrimp harvested in ponds in Ecuador, Thailand, and Vietnam and exported to China for minor processing, shrimp harvested in Bangladesh and shipped to India for minor processing, and, most recently shrimp landed in Argentina and exported to either China or Vietnam for minor processing. In each of its rulings on these fact patterns, CBP consistently found that the country-of-origin of this shrimp did not change based on the processing taking place in the third country, whether it was freezing, peeling, or cooking.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance’s comments also provided context for the numerous country-of-origin rulings sought regarding imported shrimp products, as the U.S. shrimp market has been historically characterized by unscrupulous importers using false country-of-origin claims to evade regulatory requirements, whether they relate to food safety protections implemented by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or obligations to pay antidumping duties to the U.S. Treasury. This was of particular concern with regard to the Indian shrimp at issue in the erroneous CBP ruling (NY N281670) given that this shrimp was subject to both numerous Import Alerts issued by the FDA and antidumping duties. The Southern Shrimp Alliance explained that successful enforcement efforts depended upon clear and consistent rules regarding the country-of-origin of shrimp products imported into the United States.