A foreign-trade zone is an area under CBP supervision located in or near a port of entry. Considered outside the customs territory, foreign-trade zones are nevertheless subject to the legislation of the United States as well as of the states and communities in which their sites are located. Foreign and domestic goods may be transported into a foreign-trade zone for a variety of operations.
Operations in a Foreign-Trade Zone
Upon approval from CBP, a foreign-trade zone may be operated by a public or a private corporation. CBP supervises the admission of goods into a foreign-trade zone, the handling and disposition of these goods in the zone, and their removal from the zone. No duties are levied on goods formally introduced into foreign-trade zones. The goods may remain in the zones indefinitely. Customs duty and federal excise tax are only to be paid when the goods are transferred from a foreign-trade zone and entered for consumption in the United States.
U.S. customs law defines, amongst others, the following two statuses of imported goods in a foreign-trade zone:
Privileged foreign status
Non-privileged foreign status
Privileged foreign status will only be given to merchandise that has not been manipulated or manufactured so as to effect a change in tariff classification at the time of application. The merchandise may be processed in the foreign-trade zone or remain unchanged. At the time of entry for consumption, privileged foreign status merchandise will be subject to tariff classification and duty assessment according to its condition and quantity at the time of granting the status. When non-privileged foreign status merchandise is entered for consumption, tariff classification and duty rates in force at the time of entry apply instead.
As the duties on goods imported for use as components in manufacturing may be considerably higher than the duties on the finished products, processing and manufacturing in foreign-trade zones can be an alternative to a direct import of these products. If, on the other hand, the rate of duty on a product manufactured in a foreign-trade zone is higher than the rate of duty on its components, it makes sense to apply for the privileged foreign status for these components upon admission to the zone.
Domestic goods may be moved into a foreign-trade zone and stored there until they are exported. This procedure is advantageous especially for goods upon which duties and excise are payable because CBP considers these goods exported upon admission to the zone. Excise tax rebates and drawback thus apply immediately.