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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in NAFTA

The United States, Mexico and Canada have enjoyed near-complete free trade since the inception of the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) in 1994.  In fact, Canada and the US have enjoyed “free trade” even longer than that, since the inception of the first Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1989.  Unfortunately, free trade amongst the “three amigos” is not guaranteed!

In this blog we explore the mandatory Review and Term Extension Rules in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA” – also known in Canada as the “CUSMA”), and what it is going to take in order to keep our vibrant North American trade relationship going!

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The Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) resets its “audit priority areas” twice per year. Essentially, the CBSA designates certain products as priority areas for customs verifications (i.e., “audits”) based on the program areas that the CBSA believes pose a significant risk for import non-compliance in terms of tariff classification, valuation, and/or origin of goods.

The CBSA has now released its January 2024 Trade Compliance Verification priorities, setting the stage for the next six (6) months. While there are no new audit priorities in this round, the CBSA has announced its intention to engage in new rounds of verifications on a number of historic issues, and updated its statistics on existing verifications. As is often the case, most of the focus is on tariff classification!

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With US President Donald Trump hinting that he may withdraw his country from the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), many are starting to consider what the effects that such a withdrawal would have on goods and services crossing North American borders.

What has not been widely reported is the expected effect on business immigration (e.g., US and/or Mexican nationals seeking temporary entry into Canada for business or investment purposes).

Chapter 16 of NAFTA currently allows citizens of the US and Mexico (i.e. who are not Canadian residents) to enter Canada as a “business visitor” for temporary business or investment purposes, and stay in Canada for up to six months – all without a “work permit”. To qualify under these business visitor provisions, a traveller must be entering Canada for the purposes of engaging in qualifying activities (which include conferences, trade-shows, conventions, and business meetings for taking orders or negotiating contracts for goods or services for certain enterprises).  (For a complete list of permissible activities, click here).

So what happens if NAFTA disappears overnight?

Some other options would still be available for business travellers needing to enter Canada temporarily.

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The liberalization of Canada’s trade policies over the years has now lead to a situation where goods may often be capable of being imported to Canada on a duty free basis under Canada’s most favoured nation (MFN) tariff, without needing the benefits of Canada’s various preferential trade agreements (PTAs) like the NAFTA.

A problem arises, however, when after importing such goods on the basis of the MFN tariff, an importer discovers, or is assessed, on the basis that the original tariff classification was incorrect.   The problem specifically arises where, more than one year has passed from the original date of accounting, and the new “correct” tariff classification is duty-positive under MFN.  

In Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) historic view of these situations, an importer is obliged to correct the tariff classification and treatment under s. 32.2(2) of the Customs Act, and pay the required MFN duties owing (with no application of the relevant PTA).  CBSA has historically denied application of PTA benefits in these situations on the basis that PTA refunds are usually limited to one year from accounting: see for example section 74(3)(b)(ii) of the Customs Act.

CBSA’s historic practice has been overturned by the Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) in the recent decision in Bri-Chem Supply Ltd. v. CBSA ((October 2, 2015) AP-2014-017 (CITT)).

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