International Trade > Customs and Import Controls

Navigating the modern environment of international business requires companies that engage in the exchange of goods and services across international borders to be ever vigilant in addressing customs and import controls laws, including those related to border and supply chain security. These laws are generally enforced by countries and customs unions. In the United States, under the direction of the departments of Homeland Security and the Treasury, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are primarily responsible for these laws’ enforcement, among other government agencies. Whether in the United States or elsewhere, these laws necessitate proactivity from businesses, lest their supply chains be interrupted, or they find themselves on the receiving end of government sanctions. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP’s customs and import controls practice works to ensure and optimize our clients’ cost- and time-efficient shipment of goods and services across borders, within the confines of the law.

Navigating Through Stepped-Up Controls and Scrutiny

We provide tailor-made solutions for each client and matter, with special attention given to maximizing cost-effectiveness and successful outcomes. Our team works tirelessly to ensure clients’ success in situations ranging from the minimization of customs duties and fees to the bolstering of supply chain and border security to continued compliance with government customs laws.

The Akin Gump customs practice comprises not only practiced lawyers but also economists and policy experts who have wide-ranging experience with government agencies and trade laws. These professionals, located in offices across the United States as well as in Beijing, Geneva, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, enjoy a deserved reputation as members of a stellar practice within a global law firm with robust bipartisan relationships in all branches of government and key U.S. agencies. Our lawyers regularly appear before CBP, the U.S. Court of International Trade and other federal courts on customs and import controls issues and also engage with numerous other federal agencies, such as the departments of Agriculture and Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Security Administration.

In addition, our clients reap the benefits of Akin Gump’s multidisciplinary approach that brings together the insights of attorneys in key practices, including trade, corporate, public law and policy, tax and white collar defense. We represent clients, ranging from Fortune 100 corporations to small entrepreneurial firms, who engage in such diverse fields as:

  • Customs brokerage, express delivery, freight forwarding, logistics and sea and rail transportation
  • aerospace, apparel, beverages, consumer electronics, cosmetics, food products, footwear, home furnishings, luxury goods and paper products.

With such a diverse client base, routine or “boilerplate” representation is never sufficient. Our attorneys provide customized solutions for each client, with a vast arsenal of legal and policy skills at their disposal to ensure secure transactions and compliance with customs and import controls laws in the increasingly complex marketplace of the 21st century.

Audits, Enforcement and Litigation

Recordkeeping requirements constitute a major aspect of the regulatory focus for CBP, ICE and other import controls agencies; to comply with the agencies’ laws, companies must be vigilant in retaining information well after the date that goods are imported. As such, internal compliance programs are essential if an audit ever occurs, to ensure for an efficient and unobtrusive audit process, free of the specter of back-duties, penalties, forfeitures and other sanctions, including criminal prosecutions.

For example, should a CBP penalty notice be assessed, businesses must work to forestall the possibility of potentially severe fines and forfeiture of property, not to mention criminal sanctions, including those related to smuggling and export controls. The Akin Gump team is well equipped to plot a course that mitigates or wholly steers clear of such pitfalls through experienced, effective advocacy in contesting claims, both administrative and judicial.

We enjoy a track record of excellent results in cases where litigation is necessary. Though our attorneys endeavor to avoid such costly and uncertain situations where they can, their involvement—both in private and government practice and in virtually all facets of civil and criminal litigation across the spectrum of available courts—ensures that a strong and experienced team backs our clients at every possible stage of a case.

Customs Compliance, Trade Legislation and Administrative Review

With the consolidation over a decade ago of the U.S. Customs Service and other international trade agencies into the Department of Homeland Security, companies engaged in cross-border trade must heed the ever-evolving customs and related supply chain and border security laws and initiatives. Akin Gump lawyers (i) advise clients on compliance obligations under existing mandates (e.g., the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or C-TPAT, advance manifest requirements, importer security filings and food safety) and the impact of new mandates and (ii) advocate for client concerns during the often-hurried policymaking sessions that lead to such new regulations. At every stage of the legislative process, from preparing testimony for congressional hearings to the drafting of legislation to lobbying elected officials, Akin Gump brings to bear a collaborative approach, linking attorneys in its trade and policy practices. Such coordination benefits our clients through increased impact on customs and import controls laws and public policy.

As part of the firm’s advocacy, our attorneys are not only active in promoting certain legislative efforts but also vigorous in their contact with government agencies, requesting binding rulings and internal advice and protesting liquidated entries. Through such efforts, we take advantage of critical opportunities to pursue administrative review, including obtaining significant savings in duties, fees and taxes for our clients.

Trade and Tariff Compliance

Businesses often overlook the fundamental importance of accurate tariff classification and appraisement as sources of potential duty savings and necessary compliance for imported products. These are the “nuts and bolts” of any sophisticated customs and import controls practice, and our lawyers are well versed in this complex body of law to maximize duty savings and minimize customs penalties.

To maintain a competitive edge, companies should also be alert to the numerous preferential trade and tariff programs available to importers. We counsel clients on the many significant benefits available through participation in such programs, from the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Generalized System of Preferences to existing and emerging trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Importers can also find essential cost savings through tariff advantage programs, whereby goods partially made in the United States but assembled or partially fabricated abroad can be imported at less expense. Other strategies for cost-savings that our attorneys recommend include the use of customs-bonded warehouses, foreign trade zones and duty drawback.

Our clients include customs brokerage providers who deal daily in the business of import and export, such as customs brokers, freight forwarders and transportation providers. Working closely with these parties, our team achieves maximum efficiency for them without sacrificing compliance obligations.