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Lawmakers introduce de minimis reform bill in US Senate

Published June 16, 2023

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — Senate legislation was introduced to restrict non-market economies like China from using the de minimis threshold to import potentially dangerous products — including e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries — into the U.S. marketplace without accountability for product integrity.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Neal Dunn (R-Fla.), and Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) submitted the Import Security and Fairness Act on Thursday. The bill, originally introduced in January 2022, would keep non-market economies from taking advantage of the $800 de minimis threshold. Goods under the threshold, estimated by Blumenauer to be in excess of two million packages daily, enter the U.S. without inspection, paying duties, taxes, and fees.

The bill could slow the flow of unregulated e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries into the U.S. Currently, direct-to-consumer retailers, particularly from China, can sell those products without certificates of conformity and well below market cost.

"The de minimis loophole is a threat to American competitiveness, consumer safety, and basic human rights," said Blumenauer, ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade. "It is used by primarily Chinese companies to ship over two million packages a day into the United States. It puts American businesses at a competitive disadvantage while flooding American consumers with undoubtedly harmful products. There is virtually no way to tell whether packages that come in under the de minimis limit contain products made with forced labor, intellectual property theft, or are otherwise dangerous. It is time to close this loophole once and for all."

The Import Security and Fairness Act also would require Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to collect more information on all de minimis shipments and prohibit use by "bad actors." To address concerns regarding compliance with U.S. laws, this provision makes changes that will require CBP to collect more information on de minimis shipments and prohibit importers that have been suspended or debarred from using the rule.

Products entering under the de minimis rule also can bypass Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations because off-shore retailers are out of reach of the U.S. government and legal system. Blumenauer said last month when announcing the preparation of the bill that some importers use strategies such as "creative invoicing" with shippers and manufacturers adjusting the invoice value below $800.

"Part of what's happening with the 'creative invoicing' is we see an explosion — and I use that term advisedly — of e-bikes that are $799, and we've had a number of problems because they have defective batteries, especially in New York, but in other places," Blumenauer said last month. "I think there are a series of steps that need to be taken to deal with what is a genuine threat to public safety as well as unfair competition."

The legislation is endorsed by PeopleForBikes, AFL-CIO, Alliance for American Manufacturing, Citizens Trade Campaign, Coalition for a Prosperous America, Communications Workers of America, IBEW, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, National Council of Textile Organizations, Public Citizen, ReThink Trade, U.S. Footwear Manufacturers Association, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and the United Steelworkers.

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