The Purpose and Use of a Foreign Trade Zone

An Expert's View about Free Trade Zones in the United States

Posted on: 26 Nov 2011

Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) are secure areas under U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervision that are generally considered outside of Customs territory upon activation. Located in or near US Customs ports of entry, they are the United States’ version of what are known internationally as free-trade zones.

Under zone procedures, the usual formal US Customs entry procedures and payments of duties are not required on the foreign merchandise unless and until it “enters” the territory of the U.S. for domestic consumption, at which point the importer generally has the choice of paying duties at the rate of either the original foreign materials or the finished product (in the event the original goods have now been assembled into a completed different product).

The duty on a product manufactured abroad and imported into the U.S. is assessed on the finished product rather than on its individual parts, materials, or components. The U.S. based manufacturer finds itself at a disadvantage compared with its foreign competitor when it must pay a higher rate on parts, materials, or components imported for use in a manufacturing process.

The FTZ program seeks to correct this imbalance by treating products made in the zone, for the purpose of tariff assessment, as if it were manufactured abroad. At the same time, the United States benefits because the zone manufacturer uses U.S. labor, services, and inputs.

Another benefit is that domestic goods moved into an FTZ for export may be considered exported upon admission to the zone for purposes of excise tax rebates and drawback. Goods may also be exported from the zone free of duty and excise tax after being reworked or merely being warehoused there temporarily.

US Customs is responsible for the transfer of merchandise into and out of the FTZ and for matters involving the collection of revenue. The local US Customs Port Director, in whose port a zone is located, is charged with the oversight of zone activity and enforcement as the local representative of the Foreign-Trade Zones Board. The Port Director controls the admission of merchandise into the zone, the handling and disposition of merchandise in the zone, and the removal of merchandise from the zone.
For more information, you can click here and/or contact these offices below directly:

U.S. Department of Commerce
Foreign-Trade Zones Board
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room 2111
Washington, D.C. 20230
Main Phone: (202) 482-2862
(Foreign-Trade Zones Board )

Customs Regulations, 19 CFR Part 146, govern the transfer of merchandise to and from foreign-trade zones. For answers to specific questions contact the Port Director of the US Customs port where the zone is located or  Customs Headquarters at:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Office of Field Operations
Cargo and Conveyance Security
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 5.2C
Washington, D.C. 20229


Posted: 26 November 2011

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