Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Customs Service has removed from its Web site the names of apparel companies who voluntarily disclosed they had underpaid import duties, following a storm of protest from importers.
Raymond Kelly, the Customs commissioner, on Wednesday issued a terse notice stating: “E-policies…are a work in process. We are withdrawing the list of companies penalized by Customs from our Web site to both remove the names of companies whose penalties were the result of a prior disclosure and to reevaluate the policy.”
Among the approximately 300 firms cited on the government Web site, including the total amount collected by Customs, are: Burlington Coat Factory, $10,000; Bestform, Inc., $738,926; Nine West Group, $1,077; Nine West Distribution Co., $7,997; Wacoal America, Inc., $80,770; Rack Room Shoes, $4,481 and $123; Cluett, Peabody and Co., $28,888; Single Source Apparel, $1,000; Joe Boxer Corp., $2,701; and Trend-Tex Fabrics, Inc., $5,127.
In some cases, there was an enormous difference between the penalties originally assessed after companies voluntarily disclosed customs underpayment and the amount of which the U.S. finally settled. Customs’ Web site reported that Burlington Coat Factory, for example, had a $908,764 “penalty-assessed,” but the total customs collected was $10,000 after the issues were settled.
The Web site disclosure was posted Oct. 12 and it provoked an avalanche of protest by importers.
“This listing could have a chilling effect on the import community, as companies must take into account many factors” before deciding whether to voluntary disclose possible underpayment of import duties, said Brenda Jacobs, an attorney for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “One of these factors would be disclosure of a company’s name on the Customs Web site.”

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