By  on November 18, 2004

WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs & Border Protection is scrutinizing a year’s worth of shipments of bra imports from Macau and Hong Kong after finding numerous entries not claiming China as the country of origin despite documentation proving otherwise.

One of the aspects the agency is trying to determine in its investigation is whether deliberate circumvention or simple negligence was involved.

Janet Labuda, director of the textile enforcement and operations division, said Wednesday she could not quantify the size of the misclassification, but noted Customs is concerned about “numerous shipments” of bras from Hong Kong and Macau over the course of a year and some 7,000 lines of information.

“Technically, this should not be happening,” Labuda said. “I don’t know how you could make a mistake like that. Some could scream fraud, but we are not doing that yet. We want to get a better picture of the entire situation.”

Labuda stressed that she didn’t yet know if importers were purposely transshipping to circumvent China’s quota limit on bras.

“The documents [showing China as the country of origin] were correct, but whoever made the electronic entry [for the shipments] made it incorrectly,” she explained. “I can say right now if there appears to be a pattern here, we will strongly pursue penalties.”

For the year ended Sept. 30, imports of cotton and man-made fiber bras from Hong Kong totaled 5.2 million square meters equivalent and were valued at $29 million, according to Commerce Department figures. Cotton bra imports from Hong Kong rose 73.4 percent, on a volume basis, during the period while man-made fiber bra imports rose 34.5 percent.

Bra imports from Macau totaled 1.1 million SME and were valued at $3.9 million. Cotton bra imports rose 56.6 percent but man-made fiber bra imports fell 27.9 percent over the past 12 months.

It is unclear what action Customs will take if it determines a year’s worth of bra shipments from Macau and Hong Kong were entered improperly. The charge could be “negligence” or “gross negligence” against the offending parties, or, if determined the goods were deliberately transshipped, it could constitute “outright fraud.”

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