Literature requirements for Customs purposes are somewhat misunderstood. Yet it is something that Customs require fairly often.
The production of literature is primarily required for tariffing purposes, a process we also refer to as classification. The tariff code affects the rate of duty as well as the prohibition and restriction of goods. It is therefore important to be able to produce the correct literature at short notice.
So, what is literature? Literature is exactly what you are reading now. It is a document containing literary work. The literary work for Customs purposes has to be descriptive. It must contain a 100% breakdown of the constituent material of the product. It must include product specifications, drawings, design works, functionality, features, or a chemical analysis. Although ‘what the product is going to be used for’ has no bearing on classification, it does help the reader to understand what the product is. Tariff classification is based purely on what you see in front of you, and not what it might become or be used for later on.
Literature has to be merit based. The merits of literature hinges on three aspects.
Firstly, it must be generated or documented by the supplier, not the importer. The reason for this is that an importer has a material interest in how the rates of duty are affected. An importer may therefore provide false or misleading information. The importer was not party in the production of the product. According to the authorities they therefore have no authority to comment on the constituent material of the product; strictly speaking.
Secondly, literature must be formally documented. It cannot be a hand or type written letter or e-mail drawn up by an individual or company. Literature is normally documented by persons who hold some authority over the product, i.e. product development specialists, laboratory scientists, a manufacturer and so forth. Literature may also be given authority by virtue of it being printed on a formal company technical or specifications letterhead, pamphlet or catalogue. In some cases SARS may accept explanations on a supplier’s letterhead, but not in all cases.
Thirdly, the identification marks and numbers on the literature must correspond to the marks and numbers embossed on the product. If these do not match, the literature is insufficient. Likewise, the marks and numbers on the literature must match that of a commercial invoice.
There are cases where supplier’s literature is very hard to come by, normally owing to trade secrets. In such instances, the literature may be sent to the Customs authorities directly from the suppliers e-mail address (as an attachment), with prior arrangements. Customs Officials are legally bound to confidentiality clauses. Alternatively, a third party (i.e. independent), nationally accredited chemical laboratory may conduct a chemical analysis of the product. This can be done at the importer or exporters home country. Customs however do not take responsibility for the analysis fees even though they may, in the absence of literature, demand such analysis.
Finally, a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is not normally an acceptable form of literature. A MSDS does not contain product material information other than what is required for safety purposes.