When It Comes To Tariff Classification, Shakespeare Had It Right

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When It Comes To Tariff Classification, Shakespeare Had It Right

William Shakespeare famously wrote “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell so sweet

In today’s language that translates as, a rose by any other name is still a rose.

So, what’s in a name? Recent errors in cargo identification have reminded me of two cases that crossed my desk some time back.

The respective clients were found at the wrong end of Customs’ Desktop Verification Exercises under s240AA of the Customs Act. Both imported bamboo flooring. Both suffered significant financial hardship through the need to repay import duties incorrectly assessed at the time of import, and the threat of crippling administrative penalties for the indiscretions.

The commercial import documents for both importers described their product, among other things, as “strand woven bamboo”.

The importers’ brokers on each occasion declared the goods as described – as strand woven bamboo. This is despite their respective clients both being importers of wooden flooring.

The unfortunate outcome of this lack of due diligence, duty of care and professional standards was that the imported goods attracted a free rate of import duty, rather than the correct rate of 5% applied to bamboo flooring.

It is indisputable that any more than a cursory understanding of the client’s products, and any more than a superficial examination of all the commercial documents, would have led the broker to realise their error. And to compound the matter this error was repeated hundreds of times over a period of years.

This stands as a stark reminder of the Rules of Identification set out by the Administration Appeals Tribunal in Re Tridon Pty Ltd and Collector of Customs where, among other things, they said ….

Identification must be objective, having regard to the characteristics which the goods, on informed inspection, present


In the identification of goods, knowledge of how those who trade in the goods describe them will usually be relevant, but not necessarily conclusive …;”

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