FUR COMMISSION USA PRESS RELEASE, NOVEMBER 12, 2000 (UPDATED NOVEMBER 13)
ON NOVEMBER 13, 2000, President Clinton signed into law HR 4868, the Tariff Suspension and Trade Act of 2000, which includes among its more than 100 individual provisions, a prohibition on the importation of any products containing domestic dog and cat fur.
The final, revised language on domestic dog/cat fur legislation addresses all of the objections raised by the fur industry in connection with the original Senate bill that passed in September. The final bill should strengthen consumer confidence in the legitimate fur trade while narrowly addressing what could have become a problem in the future: the mislabeling of unacceptable products and their clandestine importation into the burgeoning US fur market.
Many in the fur trade felt that such an illicit trade could never become established in the US since experts can easily tell one product from another. Furthermore, the long and honorable ties between brokers and buyers, some going back hundreds of years, would not allow for such activity. However, with the resurgence of fur, there was a fear that small retailers handling fur for the first time might be duped by new and unscrupulous traders.
To address this potential problem, the fur trade worked hard analyzing how to improve what was, originally, a very poorly written bill. Troubling provisions that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) had included in the original bill, as introduced by Cong. Kleczka and Sen. Roth, were removed last July in response to comments filed by FCUSA,(1) and never made their way back. These included the creation of citizens suits to enforce the bill, and the empowerment of “duly authorized officers”, such as HSUS inspectors, to enforce the law.
The final bill does contain a debarment provision by which the government could prevent a person from importing/exporting or distributing any fur product. However, this draconian remedy will only be used if there occurs a pattern of violations due to intentional fraud or gross negligence. The bill’s original version might have permitted use of this remedy even for inadvertent violations, and the small-quantity labeling provision could have shifted the onus to small “mom and pop” stores trading in fur trim items. The final draft puts the blame for violations where it belongs: on unscrupulous brokers attempting to deceive the public, not small retailers, many of whom, due to the revival in fur’s popularity, are trading in fur for the first time.
Fur Trade Friends Pull Together
The efforts of many people down the stretch were critical to the successful result.
HSUS had initiated a major grass roots campaign to try to get the House to accept the Senate version of the bill. In response, a coalition of mass retailers, textile/apparel importers, and fur industry reps pressed the House to reject the Senate version. The final language reflects the success of their efforts.
Among those who labored long and hard were Mark Schumacher of the Fur Information Council of America (FICA), and Joe Poser of the American Fur Merchants Association, both of whom had key conversations with House and Senate staffers working on the final language. FCUSA helped with a letter writing and calling campaign directed at House Ways and Means Committee members.
The Devil Lies in the Implementation
With the signing of the bill, the legislation now goes to the implementation stage. “It is important that the industry participate in the regulatory process, including reviewing and commenting on any regulatory proposals developed by Customs or any other agency,” says FICA’s Schumacher. “Our objective all along has been to support the concept of the bill so long as it does not impede trade in legitimate fur products. How Customs interprets and implements the bill’s enforcement provisions will ultimately determine whether the legislative success will be translated into the implementation process.”
“We will be tracking this process very closely and expect all segments of the industry involved in the importation, exportation, distribution and sale of fur products, may want to comment on these regulatory proposals,” says trade expert Larry Lasoff of Collier Shannon Scott, PLLC in Washington, DC.
In brief, consumers are protected by law from unscrupulous traders trying to sell one product as another. Labeling fraud laws and substantial penalties protect us from anyone trying to pass off horsesteak as beefsteak, cubic zirconium as diamonds, or catskin as mink! Luckily, the experts who feed and clothe us are extremely knowledgeable about the products they represent. And just in case, this law now adds another layer of consumer protection. Fans of fur can buy their products and wear them with complete confidence!
SEC. 1443. PROHIBITION ON IMPORTATION OF PRODUCTS MADE WITH DOG OR CAT FUR.
(a) In General: Title III of the Tariff Act of 1930 is amended by inserting after section 307 the following new section:
SEC. 308. PROHIBITION ON IMPORTATION OF DOG AND CAT FUR PRODUCTS.
(a) Definitions: In this section:
(1) Cat fur: The term “cat fur” means the pelt or skin of any animal of the species Felis catus.
(2) Interstate Commerce: The term “interstate commerce” means the transportation for sale, trade, or use between any State, territory, or possession of the United States, or the District of Columbia, and any place outside thereof.
(3) Customs laws: The term “customs laws of the United States” means any other law or regulation enforced or administered by the United States Customs Service.
(4) Designated authority: The term “designated authority” means the Secretary of the Treasury, with respect to the prohibitions under subsection (b)(1)(A), and the President (or the President’s designee), with respect to the prohibitions under subsection (b)(1)(B).
(5) Dog fur: The term “dog fur” means the pelt or skin of any animal of the species Canis familiaris.
(6) Dog or cat fur product: The term “dog or cat fur product” means any item of merchandise which consists, or is composed in whole or in part, of any dog fur, cat fur, or both.
(7) Person: The term “person” includes any individual, partnership, corporation, association, organization, business trust, government entity, or other entity subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
(8) United States: The term “United States” means the customs territory of the United States, as defined in general note 2 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.
(1) In general: It shall be unlawful for any person to–
(A) import into, or export from, the United States any dog or cat fur product; or
(B) introduce into interstate commerce, manufacture for introduction into interstate commerce, sell, trade, or advertise in interstate commerce, offer to sell, or transport or distribute in interstate commerce in the United States, any dog or cat fur product.
(2) Exception: This subsection shall not apply to the importation, exportation, or transportation, for noncommercial purposes, of a personal pet that is deceased, including a pet preserved through taxidermy.
(c) Penalties and Enforcement:
(1) Civil penalties:
(A) In general: Any person who violates any provision of this section or any regulation issued under this section may, in addition to any other civil or criminal penalty that may be imposed under title 18, United States Code, or any other provision of law, be assessed a civil penalty by the designated authority of not more than–
(i) $10,000 for each separate knowing and intentional violation;
(ii) $5,000 for each separate grossly negligent violation; or
(iii) $3,000 for each separate negligent violation.
(B) Debarment: The designated authority may prohibit a person from importing, exporting, transporting, distributing, manufacturing, or selling any fur product in the United States, if the designated authority finds that the person has engaged in a pattern or practice of actions that has resulted in a final administrative determination with respect to the assessment of civil penalties for knowing and intentional or grossly negligent violations of any provision of this section or any regulation issued under this section.
(C) Factors in assessing penalties: In determining the amount of civil penalties under this paragraph, the designated authority shall take into account the degree of culpability, any history of prior violations under this section, ability to pay, the seriousness of the violation, and such other matters as fairness may require.
(D) Notice: No penalty may be assessed under this paragraph against a person unless the person is given notice and opportunity for a hearing with respect to such violation in accordance with section 554 of title 5, United States Code.
(2) Forfeiture: Any dog or cat fur product manufactured, taken, possessed, sold, purchased, offered for sale or purchase, transported, delivered, received, carried, shipped, imported, or exported contrary to the provisions of this section or any regulation issued under this section shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States.
(3) Enforcement: The Secretary of the Treasury shall enforce the provisions of this section with respect to the prohibitions under subsection (b)(1)(A), and the President shall enforce the provisions of this section with respect to the prohibitions under subsection (b)(1)(B).
(4) Regulations: Not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this section, the designated authorities shall, after notice and opportunity for comment, issue regulations to carry out the provisions of this section. The regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury shall provide for a process by which testing laboratories, whether domestic or foreign, can qualify for certification by the United States Customs Service by demonstrating the reliability of the procedures used for determining the type of fur contained in articles intended for sale or consumption in interstate commerce. Use of a laboratory certified by the United States Customs Service to determine the nature of fur contained in an item to which subsection (b) applies is not required to avoid liability under this section but may, in a case in which a person can establish that the goods imported were tested by such a laboratory and that the item was not found to be a dog or cat fur product, prove dispositive in determining whether that person exercised reasonable care for purposes of paragraph (6).
(5) Reward: The designated authority shall pay a reward of not less than $500 to any person who furnishes information that establishes or leads to a civil penalty assessment, debarment, or forfeiture of property for any violation of this section or any regulation issued under this section.
(6) Affirmative defense: Any person accused of a violation under this section has a defense to any proceeding brought under this section on account of such violation if that person establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the person exercised reasonable care–
(A) in determining the nature of the products alleged to have resulted in such violation; and
(B) in ensuring that the products were accompanied by documentation, packaging, and labeling that were accurate as to the nature of the products.
(7) Coordination with other laws: Nothing in this section shall be construed as superseding or limiting in any manner the functions and responsibilities of the Secretary of the Treasury under the customs laws of the United States.
(d) Publication of Names of Certain Violators: The designated authorities shall, at least once each year, publish in the Federal Register a list of the names of any producer, manufacturer, supplier, seller, importer, or exporter, whether or not located within the customs territory of the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, against whom a final administrative determination with respect to the assessment of a civil penalty for a knowing and intentional or a grossly negligent violation has been made under this section.
(e) Reports: In order to enable Congress to engage in active, continuing oversight of this section, the designated authorities shall provide the following:
(1) Plan for enforcement: Within 3 months after the date of enactment of this section, the designated authorities shall submit to Congress a plan for the enforcement of the provisions of this section, including training and procedures to ensure that United States Government personnel are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies to identify potential dog or cat fur products and to determine the true content of such products.
(2) Report on enforcement efforts: Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this section, and on an annual basis thereafter, the designated authorities shall submit a report to Congress on the efforts of the United States Government to enforce the provisions of this section and the adequacy of the resources to do so. The report shall include an analysis of the training of United States Government personnel to identify dog and cat fur products effectively and to take appropriate action to enforce this section. The report shall include the findings of the designated authorities as to whether any government has engaged in a pattern or practice of support for trade in products the importation of which are prohibited under this section.’.
(b) Conforming Amendment: Section 2(d) of the Fur Products Labeling Act (15 U.S.C. 69(d)) is amended by inserting (other than any dog or cat fur product to which section 308 of the Tariff Act of 1930 applies)’ after shall not include such articles’.
(c) Effective Date: The amendments made by this section shall take effect on the date of enactment of this Act.
(1) For all the provisions see Dogs, Cats and HSUS : What You See Is Not What You Get! FCUSA commentary, August 10, 2000.