SW Legal Educational Publishing

De Minimis Rule Applies to Imports Subject to NAFTA
Description Appeals court reversed a decision to classify aluminum ingots that were shipped to the U.S. from Canada as not of Canadian origin. The ingots contained less than one-percent materials from countries other than Canada. Such a small fraction is de minimis; the country of origin is Canada; the goods qualify for lower tariffs under NAFTA.
Topic International Law
Key Words Customs Duties, De Minimis, NAFTA
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The U.S. Customs Service imposed a tariff of 0.19% on aluminum ingots imported from Canada. Alcan protested that the tariff should be 0.038% that would apply under NAFTA if the ingots had not undergone "substantial transformation" with goods that originated from outside of Canada. The Court of International Trade upheld the decision, finding that the aluminum underwent "substantial transformation" because a foreign-origin substance (grain refiner) was mixed with the aluminum to make the ingots less likely to crack. Alcan appealed.
Decision Reversed. The ingots are more than 99 percent Canadian in origin. The tiny fraction that is not Canadian is "de minimis," which, under trade law, does not affect the country of origin. Hence, the goods are Canadian and qualify for the lower tariff under NAFTA. De minimis non curat lex [the law is not concerned with trifles] operates to ensure that the underlying purpose of the statutory provision is carried out."
Citation Alcan Aluminum Corp. v. U.S., 165 F.3d 898 (Fed. Cir., 1999)

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