We have a few pieces of U.S. legislation on our side as consumers that encourage domestic sourcing and help us identify the country of origin for a product. One of the most important pieces of legislation is a specific part of the United States Code – Title 19, Chapter 4, Section 1304: Marking of imported articles and containers.
Below, we break down what the U.S. Code is and what it does, the origins of this specific section, and how it helps us identify the country of origin and buy more American made goods.
What Is the U.S. Code?
The United States Code is the official “codification” or description of the permanent federal laws of the United States of America. It’s important to note that this document isn’t a summary or synopsis – the language used is the real deal. The U.S. Code is edited and maintained by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, which (in partnership with the House of Representatives) publishes a new main edition every six years.
Today, there are 53 titles in total in the United States Code, and we are just going to focus on one title below: Title 19.
Title 19, Chapter 4, Section 1304
Title 19 of the United States Code covers the laws surrounding customs and duties. Within Title 19, there are 29 chapters, covering everything from foreign trade zones, to smuggling, North American Free Trade, specific industries, and specific Acts that have been put into the law over the years relating to customs and duties. One such Act is the Tariff Act of 1930, which is covered in Chapter 4 of Title 19.
The Tariff Act of 1930, also known as the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, is a piece of legislation that put into place a lot of protectionist trade policies that helps protect American industries. Chapter 4 of Title 19 in the United States Code covers this act and all of its provisions. It has six subtitles in all, which go into detail on all the requirements and provisions.
Section 1304 of Chapter 4 is located under Subtitle II, which covers special provisions. Section 1304 is one of the best pieces of legislation we have today as consumers for identifying the country of origin for a product because it legally requires the marking of imported articles and containers with their country of origin clearly somewhere on the product or packaging.
This law is obviously great for us as American consumers because it helps us clearly see where the product is from. However, there are some loopholes and exceptions to 19 U.S. Code § 1304.
There are several exceptions to this requirement which are outlined in detail here and covered in subsection (a) of this section. We’ll shorthand the exceptions below, so feel free to click that link and view the original wording to follow along.
- (3)(A) – Article incapable of being marked.
- (3)(B) – Can’t be marked prior to shipment without injury.
- (3)(C) – Prohibitively expensive to mark prior to shipment.
- (3)(D) – Marking will indicate the origin of the article.
- (3)(E) – The article is a crude substance.
- (3)(F) – Not intended for sale by the importer.
- (3)(G) – Processing after shipment would destroy or conceal the country of origin mark.
- (3)(H) – The purchaser already knows the country of origin.
- (3)(I) – Product was made 20+ years before being imported.
- (3)(J) – Products were imported within a certain window around when the law was enabled.
- (3)(K) – Prohibitively expensive to mark after shipment.
Section 1304 also has a specific subsection (k) that covers the treatment of goods from a “USMCA” country, which is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. It loosens up a couple of the exceptions above and specifically calls out original works of art as being exempt.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and the above should not be taken as legal advice or official interpretation.
Subsections (c) through (h)
These subsections of Section 1304 cover specifics for a few industries:
- Pipes and fittings
- Compressed gas cylinders
- Coffee and tea products
- Silk products
A lot of these subsections cover details that are necessary for the marking of important items for safety purposes or items that have overlapping dependencies with other legislation like the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.
Failure to Mark and Penalties
19 U.S. Code § 1304 also covers details on consequences for failure to mark items properly, withholding delivery until they are marked properly, and penalties for importers who fail to mark their products properly. If a company is found in violation of any laws in this Section, they can be fined up to $250,000 (for repeat offenders) or imprisoned for no more than a year. While steep for some, the penalties seem more like a slap on the wrist for larger corporations.
Personally, I think the biggest loophole here is that this legislation doesn’t cover marketing materials. Companies are not required to disclose the country of origin next to the product on their website or other marketing. That lack of specificity with this law and the greyness of requirements and regulations on using “made in the USA” language gives companies a ton of discretion with how they disclose the country of origin, making it really tough for us as consumers to identify American made products when we aren’t staring at them in the store. With the rise of e-commerce shopping in the last 20 years, I think it’s about time for our government to make some additions get with the times.