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Actually, almost none of this is due to the current President. I just liked the play on words.  Here, in all its horrific glory, is the 22 section, 99 chapter, 3000 page “Harmonized Tariff Schedule” for the United States.  Maybe this wouldn’t be such a horror story if there was any economic evidence that tariffs were good for an economy. Let’s just take a peek at what the brilliant minds over at US International Trade Commission and Congress and the White House have inflicted upon the consumers (and producers) of America:

August 13, 2008
CATEGORY:     Classification
TARIFF NO.: 9701.10.0000
Ms. Jean Taylor Box 207 Teslin, Yukon, Canada Y0A 1B0
RE:     The tariff classification of paintings from Canada.

Dear Ms. Taylor:

In your letter dated July 25, 2008, you requested a tariff classification ruling.

A biography and description of your art work have been submitted. You state you are a member of the Tensit Tlingit tribe located in Yukon, Canada. You have created paintings that depict the regalia and rituals of your tribe. These are paintings of acrylic or pastels that are executed wholly by hand. They are one of a kind creations that have won several awards starting in 2005. Based on the exhibition of your work at galleries and art competitions, you are recognized as a professional artist of the free fine arts.

The applicable subheading for the painting, executed wholly by hand, will be 9701.10.0000, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), which provides for “Paintings, drawings and pastels, executed entirely by hand, other than certain specified articles; framed or not framed”. The duty rate will be Free.
Duty rates are provided for your convenience and are subject to change. The text of the most recent HTSUS and the accompanying duty rates are provided on World Wide Web at http://www.usitc.gov/tata/hts/.

This ruling is being issued under the provisions of Part 177 of the Customs Regulations (19 C.F.R. 177).

A copy of the ruling or the control number indicated above should be provided with the entry documents filed at the time this merchandise is imported. If you have any questions regarding the ruling, contact National Import Specialist Lawrence Mushinske at (646) 733-3036.

Sincerely, Robert B. Swierupski Director National Commodity Specialist Division

Phew. Thank God Mr. Swierupski made that decision. I guess he figured that selling such acrylic Tensit Tlingit tribal paintings in America wouldn’t destroy too many Native American Indian Painting factory jobs – or that their voting bloc isn’t too powerful. Or God knows what. Let’s take a look at what is taxable:

HQ 956675
November 23, 1994
CLA-2 CO:R:C:F 956675 K
CATEGORY: Classification
TARIFF NO.: 6307.90.99
District Director U.S. Customs Service 6601 N.W. 25th St.

Miami, Florida 33102-5280
RE: Application For Further Review of Protest No. 5201-94-100313; Wholesale Art & Frame Ltd., and Classification of Paintings Made With Use of Stencils
Dear District Director:

The following is our response to the referral by your office received on or about June 22, 1994, of the request for further review of the above-referenced protest.


The consumption entry covering the imported paintings from Hong Kong was liquidated on March 25, 1994, under the provision for other made up articles, other, in subheading 6307.90.99, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), with duty at the rate of 7 percent ad valorem. A timely classification protest under 19 U.S.C. 1514 was received on May 12, 1994, with a request to reliquidate the entry under the provision for paintings, executed entirely by hand, in subheading 9701.10.0000, HTSUS, free of duty.

An invoice refers to the imported merchandise as original oil paintings. Three paintings, which measure 23 1/4 ” x 19 1/4″, were taken from the shipment as samples, and referred to the Customs Laboratory with the question whether the paintings were done by hand and whether any mechanical process was involved. The laboratory report stated that “the paintings showed evidence that a mechanical device (a stencil) was used in the production of the paintings” and that “the paintings were not executed entirely by hand.”
The protestant does not dispute the report that stencils were used in the production of the shipment of paintings. The protestant asserts that the Customs Service erroneously concluded -2-
that stenciling constitutes a mechanical reproduction which is contrary to the weight of the evidence of the art world. The protestant has submitted documentation to establish that some artists may use a stencil (and sometimes combined with the use of an air brush) to produce a painting, but it does not constitute a mechanical reproduction.

For purposes of this decision, we assume that the paintings, as imported, are not mounted and must be framed after importation.

The issue is whether the use of stencils to produce paintings results in paintings that are not “executed entirely by hand” and, therefore, precluded from coverage under subheading 9701.10.0000, HTSUS.


Subheading 9701.10.0000, HTSUS, provides for the free entry of paintings, drawings and pastels, that are executed entirely by hand. The Explanatory Notes (EN) to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, which represents the official interpretation of the tariff at the international level, facilitate classification under the HTSUS by offering guidance in understanding the scope of the headings and General Rules of Interpretation of the HTSUS. The EN for paintings, subheading 9701.10.0000 states that
As these works must be executed entirely by hand, articles obtained wholly or partly by any other process are excluded, for example, paintings, whether or not on canvas, obtained by photomechanical processes; paintings executed by hand on an outline or on a drawing obtained by ordinary engraving or printing processes; so-called “authentic copies” of paintings, obtained by means of a number of masks or stencils, even if these copies are certified authentic by the artist. (Emphases are in the original.)
However, copies of paintings remain in this group irrespective of their artistic value, if they are executed entirely by hand.

The tariff schedule does not require that the paintings must be original paintings to qualify under subheading 9701.10,0000. However, the tariff schedule does require that the paintings must be “executed entirely by hand”. The EN states that “articles obtained wholly or partly by any other process (that is, other then entirely by hand), are excluded” and specifically cites the use of stencils as an example of paintings that are not executed -3-
entirely by hand. Notwithstanding the assertion that noted artists may partly use stencils in executing paintings, we conclude that paintings obtained wholly or partly with the use of stencils are precluded from coverage under subheading 9701.10.0000, HTSUS.


Oil paintings obtained wholly or partly by means of stencils, that are not framed or mounted, are classifiable in subheading 6307.90.99, HTSUS, as other made up articles…other, with duty at the general rate of 7 percent ad valorem.
You are directed to deny the protest in full.

In accordance with Section 3A(11)(b) of Customs Directive 099 3550-065, Revised Protest Directive, dated August 4, 1993, a copy of this decision attached to Customs Form 19, Notice of Action, should be provided by your office to the protestant no later than 60 days from the date of this decision and any reliquidations of entries in accordance with this decision must be accomplished prior thereto. Sixty days from the date of this decision the Office of Regulations and Rulings will take steps to make this decision available to Customs personnel via the Customs Rulings Module in ACS and the public via the Diskette Subscription Service, Freedom of Information Act and other public access channels.

John Durant, Director Commercial Rulings Division

It seems that if these paintings from Hong Kong were drawn fully by hand, then the commissar would have allowed them into the USA free of charge. You see, if poor Asian artists spend all their time doing it by hand, it couldn’t possibly destroy any American jobs. But ahh, you see, these evil foreign painters decided to make works of art for sale by using stencils. And stencils, you see, are a “mechanical reproduction” and we simply cannot allow mechanical reproductions of paintings to be sold in the United States.

There are 94 additional rulings on Section 9701.10.00, “Paintings, Drawings and Pastels” which is only one small part of Chapter 97, ” Works of art, collectors’ pieces and antiques.” How can any human being possibly comprehend this? The “General Rules of Interpretation” is a 646 page document! I wanted to find out why the tariff rates in Columns 1 and 2 were different. Fortunately I only had to read through page 6 to be reminded that we really stick it to the producers in Cuba and North Korea:

Notwithstanding any of the foregoing provisions of this note, the rates of duty shown in column 2 shall
apply to products, whether imported directly or indirectly, of the following countries and areas pursuant to section 401 of the Tariff Classification Act of 1962, to section 231 or 257(e)(2) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, to section 404(a) of the Trade Act of 1974 or to any other applicable section of law, or to action taken by the President thereunder: Cuba … North Korea

How’s this one: Americans are “allowed” to buy imported rifles after only paying a 4.7% tariff on them. BUT, they must pay an additional tax of 20% of the value of any telescopic sight that comes with it. If a North Korean or Cuban tries to sell us a rifle, we must pay a 65% tax on it. I wonder which congressional district the telescope sight manufacturers are in?
Hey, but if you are in the market for low euciric acid rape or colza seeds, you are in luck. Normally if you buy it from abroad you must pay a tax of 0.17 cents per kilogram, unless the seeds come from a country that was part of some trade “deal” that is coded up, “A,AU,BH,CA,CL,E,IL,J,JO,MA,MX,OM,P,PE,SG,” but I refuse to look for where those deals come from.

I’d like to see Congress pass a law which requires:

  1. A demonstration of how much each tariff has cost American consumers
  2. A demonstration of how much money, in total, we are spending to “save” American jobs in every single one of those sectors
  3. A demonstration of how many US producers shift production overseas to avoid these very tariffs
  4. A demonstration of the increase in costs to remaining American firms who rely on these inputs for their production process.
  5. A demonstration of the tariff revenues generated as compared to the dead weight costs of imposing those tariffs.
  6. A demonstration of the costs the tariff imposes on Americans from foreign retaliation due to our tariffs.
  7. A demonstration of the costs of maintaining the USITC, and the lost manpower and productivity to the real economy from all of the dweebs in backoffices crunching numbers and making interpretations on the most ridiculously obscure products being contemplated for sale.

We could hope for more. But even asking the USITC to do this for a few of the tariffs would require a ridiculous amount of manpower. Maybe that is how we should promote green jobs and stimulate aggregate demand? Dear Freddy is rolling over in is grave.

4 Responses to “Tariffs of Obama-Nation”

  1. Adam from St Louis says:

    I would wholly support that law. I work in the apparel import sector, and you just described a significant part of my job. When I tell people what we are required to do, they are often floored.

    Researching HTS numbers is a soul-crushing endeavor. Case in point: We wanted to import a toddler long underwear set for a national sporting goods retailer. Not only are there two different classifications for the top and bottom, in addition to the straight percentage of valuation there is also a additional duty by weight. Just dealing with the commercial shipping docs, explaining it to our customer, and getting our inventory right was a multiple day process.

    The company I work for strives to do everything ethically and by-the-book, but our convoluted customs system inflicts unnecessary costs on each and every transaction.

  2. nailheadtom says:

    It would be nice if John Durant, Director Commercial Rulings Division, had to write his ruling personally, by hand, with a charcoal-blackened stick.

  3. Harry says:

    I liked the clause that referred to the protestant.

    The lawyers that dreamed this stuff up must have been on their fifth cup of coffee at three AM not to realize that they were violating the taboo of the Separation clause, but then they probably figured the Lutherans would not be offended, and let’s get this bill done.

    Or maybe it wasn’t their fifth pot of coffee.

  4. Harry says:

    And speaking of Dear Freddie, I already have that link in my favorites thanks to Wintercow. He is rolling around as fast as a Lamborghini camshaft. But if he were around, he would be happy to have such juicy material. You couldn’t make this up.

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