Background on CBP Country of Origin Determination and USMCA

All merchandise of foreign origin imported into the United States (U.S.) must generally be marked with its country of origin, and it is subject to a country of origin (COO) determination by CBP. The country of origin of imported goods may be used as a factor to determine eligibility for preferential trade treatment under a free trade agreement.

The country of origin of imported goods is also used to determine non-preferential trade treatment, such as admissibility, marking, and trade relief (310 duties, antidumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVD). CBP uses the “substantial transformation” standard to determine the COO of goods for non-preferential purposes. For a substantial transformation to occur, “a new and different article must emerge, `having a distinctive name, character or use.’” Anheuser-Busch Brewing Ass’n v. United States, 207 U.S. 556, 562 (1908) (quoting Hartranft v. Wiegmann, 121 U.S. 609, 615 (1887)).

CBP applies two different methods to determine if goods have been substantially transformed – even though both are intended to produce the same origin determinations:

  1. Case-by-case decision based on court decision and CBP rulings (often criticized because of the varied case-specific interpretations of the basic rule that has resulted in a lack of predictability and increased uncertainty both within CBP and in the trade community). Using this method, the effect of a particular type of processing could have on impact on  origin determination.
  2. Rules of Origin in 19 CFR 102 – these rules are included in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS) under General Notes and are often referred to as the “change in tariff classification” or “tariff shift” method.

Prior to the USMCA, under the NAFTA, COO marking determinations were made using the NAFTA marking rules codified in 19 CFR 102, to determine if substantial transformation existed when a good imported from Canada or Mexico (was not entirely of Canadian or Mexican origin). The 102 rules helped determine whether or not goods were substantially transformed through processes that resulted in changes in the tariff classification (i.e., tariff shifts) in Canada or Mexico. To determine the country of origin of goods imported from Canada or Mexico for other non-preferential purposes (i.e., purposes other than marking), CBP employed case-by-case adjudication to determine whether such goods were substantially transformed in those NAFTA countries. These different non-preferential country of origin-determination methods required some importers to determine and declare two different countries of origin for the same imported good!

The Current Problem with COO Determinations Under USMCA

Importers from Canada and Mexico are subject to two different non-preferential origin determinations for imported merchandise:

  • One for marking; and,
  • Another for determining origin for other purposes (e.g., 310 duties, AD/CVD).

Consequently, these importers must also potentially comply with requirements to declare two different countries of origin for the same imported good (e.g., Canada and China, forcing the import to also tender the additional 301 duties, but, also take advantage of the FTA not having to pay regular duties). This is not only a burden, but, also quite confusing, creating inconsistency, and vastly reduces transparency.

CBP’s Proposed Solution

CBP is proposing to amend the scope provision in 19 CFR 102 by adding new language to apply the substantial transformation standard consistently across country-of-origin determinations CBP makes for imported goods from the USMCA countries of Canada and Mexico for non-preferential purposes. With this regulatory change, all non-preferential country of origin determinations by CBP for goods imported from Canada or Mexico would be based on the tariff shift rules in 19 CFR part 102.

Since importers must exercise reasonable care in determining the country of origin of their goods and may seek advice from CBP to determine the country of origin for their goods for preferential and/or non-preferential purposes; the proposed solution means CBP will no longer need to issue CBP rulings with non-preferential origin determinations for goods imported from Canada or Mexico, and there would no longer be rulings that conclude that a good imported from Canada or Mexico has two different origins under the USMCA (i.e., one for marking and one for other, customs non-preferential purposes).

CBP is proposing these changes to simplify and standardize country of origin determinations by CBP for all non-preferential purposes for goods imported from Canada or Mexico.

Comment Opportunity

Interested persons are invited to comment on the proposed rule by submitting written data, views, or arguments on all aspects of the proposed rule. CBP is seeking comments related to the economic, environmental, or federalism effects that might result from this proposed rule.

Deadline: Comments must be received on or before September 7, 2021 (extended from August 5, 2021).

Impacted Parties

Certain Canadian and Mexican importers are directly affected by the proposed change. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, 38,832 importers made 2.6 million non-NAFTA-preference entries. All of these entries were subject to non-preferential country of origin marking requirements, and some were also subject to trade remedies, that involve case-by-case adjudication. Around the same time, in FY 2020 and the start of FY 2021, CBP issued 52 rulings determining the origin of goods imported from Canada and Mexico for non-preferential purposes. These rulings, except for those involving the importation of certain textile and apparel products, were issued on a case-by-case basis to determine whether such goods were substantially transformed in Canada or Mexico or another country.

Impact on other Free Trade Agreements

While the Federal Register Notice (86 FR 35422) announcing the proposed rule and requesting comments from trade is focused on USMCA, this may be the future for all FTAs. The  Federal Register Notice makes clear that  19 CFR 102 was established to promulgate the U.S.’s responsibilities under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); however, thereafter, 19 CFR 102 has been extended to apply to numerous other FTAs as CBP has found them to be reliable, simplified, and standardized method to determining the COO of a good. Specifically, 19 CFR §§ 102.21 through 102.25, are also to be used by CBP to determine the COO of textile and apparel products (imported from all countries except Israel).

As we learn more, we will keep you up to date on whether this change will also be adopted for FTAs that are silent as to how the country of origin should be determined for marking and other non-preferential purposes.

Contact Us

Jennifer Diaz and Denise Calle have extensive expertise on FTA’s and in preparing and submitting comments for federal rulemaking. Please reach out to our trade attorneys to prepare and submit your comments to CBP. If you would like more information on this issue, contact Diaz Trade Law at and 305-456-3830.

Co-Authored by Jen Diaz & Denise Calle