In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) formally modified and corrected a January 2017 ruling letter (NY N281670) erroneously holding that Indian shrimp exported to Guatemala for cooking and peeling had been substantially transformed through its processing in Guatemala such that the appropriate country-of-origin of the cooked shrimp for marking purposes in the United States was Guatemala.

In written comments to CBP supporting modification of ruling letter NY N281670, the Southern Shrimp Alliance observed that the agency’s holding was inconsistent with over three decades of previous CBP ruling letters finding that the peeling, cooking, and other minor processing of shrimp in a third country did not constitute a substantial transformation and did not change the country-of-origin of the shrimp from where it had been harvested.

CBP’s formal modification issued on July 11, 2019 explained that the agency had previously held “that the process of cooking shrimp does not substantially transform shrimp because it ‘does not result in a change in the name, character or use’ of the shrimp.” CBP noted “that the name of cooked shrimp remains unchanged because it is still ‘referred to as shrimp,’” that the character of the shrimp remains unchanged “because it is still frozen shrimp with the same size, quality, and shape,” and that the use of the shrimp remains unchanged “because cooking is a process that ‘merely render[s] the product ready for eating.’” Accordingly, CBP corrected its previous ruling to now find that “[t]he imported ‘Cooked Peeled Shrimp’ is not substantially transformed when it is cooked in Guatemala” and that “the country of origin for marking purposes is the country where the shrimp is raised, which is India.”

CBP’s modification notes that the agency received a comment from the public in support of its proposed action.

CBP also took the opportunity to re-iterate and emphasize the requirements under U.S. law to mark imported goods, a requirement wholly separate and distinct from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Country-of-Origin Labelling rules. CBP explained:

Foreign natural products (such as shrimp) are on the so-called “J-list” and are excepted from individual marking requirements pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1304(a)(3)(J) and 19 C.F.R. § 134.33. However, “the outermost container in which the article ordinarily reaches the ultimate purchaser is required to be marked to indicate the origin of its contents.” 19 C.F.R. § 134.33. If the wholesalers or markets purchase the master cases for resale to restaurant operators for restaurant use, then the ultimate purchaser is the restaurant operator and the master cases must be marked with the country of origin. If the wholesalers or markets purchase the master cases and sell the individual polyethylene bags of shrimp, then the ultimate purchaser is the person who purchases the individual bags of shrimp and the individual bags must be marked with the country of origin.

Thus, although the USDA’s COOL requirements do not apply to “processed” seafood products, such as cooked shrimp, CBP’s marking requirements contain no such exemption. Under U.S. law, all bags of imported cooked shrimp sold at retail must indicate the country-of-origin of that shrimp.

Read U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s modification of one ruling letter and revocation of treatment relating to the country of origin for marking purposes of cooked shrimp, as published in Customs Bulletin and Decisions (Vol. 53, No. 26 July 31, 2019) here:


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