International Trade and Global Business

Online Tools that make Exporting Easier

December 06, 2011 9:35 AM

Exporters in the U.S. are often asked by their buyers to estimate duties and taxes before the goods ship.  Such estimates are especially important if a free trade agreement is involved because knowledge of its existence and the product's eligibility is necessary for claiming the benefit.

Where to easily find accurate duty and tax information is a major headache for exporters, especially small ones who lack staff dedicated to export documentation and logistics.  If your company has six full-time staff, everybody has to multi-task.  You can ask a freight forwarder but they may be unable or unwilling to find them for you.  What to do?

WPG found one good solution on www.export.gov, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce.  The site subscribes to Customs Info LLC, an outfit that created a relatively easy to use look up by country and commodity.

You will need the first six digits off the Schedule B number for your product which is called the commodity code, Harmonized number or Harmonized System (HS) code.  Yes, the nomenclature is a bit confusing but you'll soon get the hang of it. (One caller asked us for help finding his "harmony code").  Click here to go to the search engine, type in key words for your product and follow the prompts. https://uscensus.prod.3ceonline.com/

Once you have the code by retrieving it from the Schedule B search engine (add) things will go more or less harmoniously with Customs Info LLC, which is free of charge if accessed through export.gov.  Instructions for how to use the tool are provided in this short video, which guides you from the homepage of export.gov. http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/data/videoftddutytariff.html

Note that you can access the tool directly by clicking here but free usage expires after 30 days at which point you'll have to pay a membership fee to continue.

What you get for free is duty and tax information for U.S. outbound only.  You can't get information on third country duties and taxes (China-UK for example) or for imports into the U.S.  Another drawback is that there are no data for about 30 countries, mostly small ones with low levels of trade.  You can address these shortcomings by looking for missing countries here. http://export.gov/logistics/eg_main_018142.asp
In order to access more data than U.S. outbound, you’ll need to subscribe to the paid service. http://www.customsinfo.com/

Remember, too, that data are only estimates and the actual duties and taxes are final only after the customs folks in the country where the goods are shipped make their only calculations.  Most of the time, the estimates are accurate. 

Tools like the Schedule B and duties and taxes look ups help make the export process much less intimidating for small firms.  Take the time needed to do it once correctly and future shipments will be a cinch. 

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