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HQ 115278

November 13, 2001

BRO-1-RR:IT:EC 115278 GG


Carl D. Cammarata, Esq.
Law Offices of George R. Tuttle
Three Embarcadero Center, Suite 1160
San Francisco, CA 94111

RE: Ruling Request; Customs Business; 19 U.S.C. §1641; Provision of Customs Advice to Related Company

Dear Mr. Cammarata:

This is in response to your ruling request, dated January 23, 2001, and supplemental letter dated September 28, 2001, made on behalf of your client Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (“PCNA”). Your request concerns the issue of whether a licensed individual employed by PCNA may provide customs advice to other related Porsche companies.


Porsche AG, of Stuttgart, Germany, designs and manufactures Porsche automobiles. Porsche AG is the parent company of Porsche Enterprises. Porsche Enterprises is the parent company in the United States of its wholly owned subsidiaries PCNA, Porsche Motor Sports, and Porsche Engineering. PCNA, in turn, wholly owns its subsidiary Porsche Cars Canada.

PCNA imports Porsche automobiles and parts, primarily through one port. From time to time, PCNA and the other related companies import through other ports in the United States. To exercise reasonable care, as required by law, the Porsche subsidiaries propose to obtain professional advice from PCNA’s Customs Manager, who is employed full-time by PCNA and is a licensed customs broker.

Under the proposed arrangement, each of the Porsche subsidiaries will execute a power of attorney authorizing PCNA’s Customs Manager to act on their behalf. The role of PCNA’s Customs Manager in relation to the Porsche subsidiaries will be limited to that of giving advice on customs matters. In addition, pursuant to a written retainer agreement to be executed between the PCNA Customs Manager and each of the Porsche subsidiaries, it will be made clear to all of the parties that when the PCNA Customs Manager offers advice to the other companies, he will be acting in his individual capacity as a licensed customs broker and not as an employee of PCNA. The Porsche subsidiaries will retain their usual brokers to file the actual entries with Customs.

The PCNA Customs Manager will provide advice on how to classify the merchandise that is imported by the related Porsche subsidiaries. Other unspecified advice as necessary may also be furnished on specific products. The primary reason for this arrangement is that the PCNA Customs Manager is more familiar with Porsche’s products than are the brokers who are retained to file the entries, and is thus in a better position to ensure a higher compliance rate with Customs requirements.

If Customs approval of the proposed arrangement is forthcoming, PCNA would like to know what permits the PCNA Customs Manager would be required to obtain. Specifically, would a district permit be required for each of the broker districts in which merchandise is imported, or could the broker simply obtain a district permit for the broker district where PCNA is headquartered (Atlanta) as well as a national permit to cover the activities conducted for the related subsidiaries elsewhere.

PCNA also inquires into the nature of the relationships and procedures that would be required between the PCNA Customs Manager and the related subsidiaries to carry out this plan. Specifically, PCNA asks whether the powers of attorney issued by the related corporations to the PCNA Customs Manager would suffice, or whether the PCNA Customs Manager must first become a bona fide employee of each subsidiary before it can offer advice. In its letter of January 23, 2001, PCNA stated that it wanted to know what manner of compensation is acceptable to Customs if employment by each is required. The September 28 letter, however, indicates that the PCNA Customs Manager will continue to receive his full compensation from PCNA, and will donate his time when rendering advice to the other Porsche subsidiaries. Should the provision of advice significantly increase in volume, such arrangement will be changed so that each Porsche entity will compensate both the PCNA Customs Manager for his time and PCNA for the use of its facilities.


Whether a licensed employee of an unlicensed corporation may provide customs advice to related subsidiary corporations.


Section 641(b)(1) of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. §1641(b)(1)) provides that no person may conduct customs business on behalf of another unless that person is a licensed broker. Subsidiary corporations, although related through common ownership, are separate legal persons. See Headquarters Ruling Letters HQ 114166, dated February 2, 1998, HQ 223804, dated June 29, 1992, Customs Service Decision (C.S.D.) 81-40, and 19 CFR §111.1. Consequently, a subsidiary corporation would require a license to conduct customs business for a related subsidiary corporation.

The above licensing requirement raises the issue of whether a violation of §641(b)(1) would occur if a licensed full-time employee of a corporate importer were to provide customs advice to related companies. The question of whether the giving of such advice constitutes “customs business” will be addressed first; the licensee’s employment status will be discussed later.

“Customs business” is defined in 19 U.S.C. §1641(a)(2) as:

Those activities involving transactions with the Customs Service concerning the entry and admissibility of merchandise, its classification and valuation, the payment of duties, taxes, or other charges assessed or collected by the Customs Service on merchandise by reason of its importation, and the refund, rebate, or drawback of those duties, taxes, or other charges. It also includes the preparation of documents or forms in any format and the electronic transmission of documents, invoices, bills, or parts thereof, intended to be filed with the Customs Service in futherance of such activities, whether or not signed or filed by the preparer, or activities related to such preparation, but does not include the mere electronic transmission of data received for transmission to Customs.

PCNA states that its Customs Manager will advise the related corporations on how to classify their merchandise, and will give unspecified advice from time to time on specific products. As noted above, “customs business” includes those activities involving transactions with Customs concerning the classification of merchandise. It also includes the preparation, and activities relating to the preparation, of documents intended to be filed with Customs in furtherance of a customs business activity. In HQ 114404, dated March 16, 1999, Customs interpreted this to mean that an unlicensed person would be precluded from classifying another person’s merchandise which was going to be the subject of an entry filed with Customs. Clearly, any communication with Customs, whether written or oral, about the classification of merchandise will constitute “an activity involving transactions with Customs concerning . . . [the] classification [of merchandise] . . . ”. Filing an entry containing Harmonized Tariff Schedule numbers, or discussing an article’s classification with an import specialist, are examples of such communication. To give effect also to the second sentence of the statutory “customs business” definition, cited above, it is evident that the preparation of the entry documents, and the gathering of the information which will appear on those documents, are customs business activities. This gathering of information is an activity “relating to the preparation” of the entry documents. Giving advice on how to classify is a necessary part of the “gathering process”.

We are unable to comment on whether the other unspecified advice to be furnished constitutes “customs business”, because the nature of that advice has not been divulged. PCNA may seek guidance on this issue by referring to rulings previously published by Customs which address the boundaries of 19 U.S.C. §1641(a)(2), or may write in with more specific information once that information is known.

The next issue is whether the PCNA Customs Manager may conduct customs business on behalf of the related Porsche subsidiaries while working full-time for PCNA. There is no question that this licensed individual may establish his own brokerage business and transact customs business for clients. However, PCNA wants him to be able to engage in such activities during the hours he is employed by PCNA, and to receive all of his compensation solely from PCNA. PCNA argues that when rendering advice to the related Porsche subsidiaries the PCNA Customs Manager will be acting in his capacity as a licensed broker, not in his capacity as an employee of PCNA.

Customs in HQ 114166, supra, reviewed the issue of whether a licensed individual may conduct customs business for others while working full-time for an importer. In that particular case, it was proposed that a licensed individual who was employed by one company file entries for that company as well as for a related subsidiary. The broker would receive powers of attorney from both companies but would be paid only by the employer. Customs rejected the proposal on the grounds that subsidiary corporations are separate legal entities, and as such an employee of one could not make entry for the other. Customs also rejected the notion that the licensed individual could make entry for both companies on account of his status as a broker.

PCNA in its September 28 letter attempts to distinguish HQ 114166. It does so by arguing that: 1) the employee in HQ 114166 was to perform his customs duties as an employee of one of the companies, not as an individually licensed broker; 2) HQ 114166 involved the right to make entry, not the furnishing of customs advice; and 3) language in HQ 114166 based on HQ 223804, supra, would allow the arrangement proposed by PCNA. We will address each of these points in turn.

We do not agree that the proposed role of PCNA’s licensed individual differs from that of the broker in HQ 114166. In fact, we think the two situations are the same. In both situations the licensed individual is to be employed by and receive his total compensation from only one employer. The licensed individual will also obtain powers of attorney from the related subsidiaries. Customs in HQ 114166 determined that under such circumstances the role of the licensed individual was that of an employee of the employer from whom compensation was received, and explicitly rejected the notion that the individual would be acting as an independent customs broker. There, as here, the individual was merely an employee of that company who also happened to be a licensed broker. Nothing in the proposal presented by PCNA distinguishes its situation from the situation described in HQ 114166. A mere assertion that the PCNA Customs Manager will be acting on his own while dispensing advice to the Porsche subsidiaries does not offer a compelling reason to reach a different result. Nor does the existence of a retainer agreement, which puts all parties on notice that the PCNA Customs Manager is available to give customs advice, and that when he is thus engaged he is acting in his individual capacity as a licensed broker and not as an employee of PCNA, compel us to rule differently.

Retainer agreements, commonly used in attorney-client relationships, are contractual agreements to engage the services of an attorney or counselor to manage a specific matter or action or all legal matters in general. Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition. A retainer agreement which purports to establish that a full-time employee of one company assumes the identity and status of a licensed broker whenever he is called upon to give uncompensated customs advice, is, in our opinion, null and void as a matter of contract law. This is because as a general rule, an agreement which violates a statute is illegal and void (17A Am Jur 2d §247), and the retainer agreement in question ignores the statutory requirement that corporations be licensed when transacting customs business for others. PCNA would no doubt argue that no statutory violation exists because the customs manager will be acting under his own individual license, and not in his capacity as an employee of PCNA. However, an agreement will not be enforced where it conflicts with the general policy and spirit of the statute which governs it, although there may be no literal conflict. 17A Am Jur 2d §252. In our opinion, asserting that a full-time employee ceases his employment whenever called upon to give customs advice to others, conflicts with the policy and spirit of the broker licensing law, which requires corporations to be licensed if they transact customs business on behalf of other persons.

PCNA next argues that HQ 114166 is distinguishable because it involved the right to make entry, not the classification of merchandise. The issue in HQ 114166 was whether a licensed employee of an importer had the right to file entries for a related subsidiary. Customs denied the request, stating that subsidiary corporations are separate legal entities, and as such an employee of one cannot make entry for the other. Customs also observed that the employee’s role was that of an employee, not that of a broker, and thus he could not conduct customs business for the related subsidiary. The last observation acknowledged that making entry is customs business. Since the filing of entries and classifying merchandise each constitute customs business, the conclusion of HQ 114166 would have been the same regardless of which activity had been undertaken therein. Accordingly, PCNA may not distinguish its situation by reason of the different type of activity being performed.

Finally, PCNA asserts that language in HQ 114166 interpreting HQ 223804 authorizes PCNA’s proposed arrangement. The language in question is as follows:

Because a parent corporation and a subsidiary are in law separate and distinct entities, a parent corporation could not make entry for its subsidiary. We did find in that ruling [HQ 223804] that based on agency principles, a person who was employed by both a parent corporation and its subsidiary could file an entry on behalf of the subsidiary, provided that there was a power of attorney that stated that the employee was an employee of the subsidiary and had authority to file entries on behalf of the subsidiary.

PCNA implies that this language would allow its Customs Manager, acting in the capacity of an agent and broker and possessing powers of attorney from each subsidiary, to render advice in the requested manner. We disagree with this interpretation. The language simply allows a person who is employed by two employers to file entries for both. That option is discussed in detail below.

Although the licensed PCNA Customs Manager is precluded from offering customs advice to the other Porsche subsidiaries while employed exclusively by PCNA, other options remain. As mentioned previously, the PCNA Customs Manager may establish his own business as a customs broker, during hours in which he is not working for PCNA.

An alternative way for the Porsche subsidiaries to benefit from the expertise of the PCNA Customs Manager would be for each of those companies to make the Customs Manager their own employee. This type of arrangement is discussed in HQ 223804 and C.S.D. 81-40, supra. The requirements attaching to such an arrangement are that: 1) the employee is a bona fide employee of each company; 2) each subsidiary grants a power of attorney to the employee specifically stating that the employee is an employee of the subsidiary and that the employee has the authority to conduct customs business on behalf of the subsidiary; and 3) the employee performs the work for each subsidiary in his capacity as an employee of that particular company. The question of whether employment is bona fide may best be resolved by referring to the law of the State where the employer is located. Guidance on this issue may also be found in a Position Statement on Relationships Between Customs Brokers, 54 Federal Register 13136, dated March 30, 1989.

PCNA asks Customs to rule on the manner in which the PCNA Customs Manager will be compensated if he is employed by each Porsche subsidiary. Specifically, PCNA asks whether PCNA may pay the Customs Manager’s total compensation, and then periodically be reimbursed by the other companies on a flat fee basis. Provided the employment of the licensed person by each subsidiary is bona fide, the manner in which that person is paid is a private matter between him and his employers. This privacy would extend to transfers of money between subsidiary importers which each separately employ the same licensed person. The bona fides of the employment is critical, because the lack thereof would indicate not only possible 19 U.S.C. §1641(b)(1) violations (conducting customs business without a license), but also possible violations of 19 CFR §111.36(b) as well. Section 111.36(b) stipulates that a broker must not enter into any agreement with an unlicensed person to transact customs business for others in such manner that the fees or other benefits resulting from the services rendered for others inure to the benefit of the unlicensed person. The PCNA Customs Manager would be subject to sanction if he were to transact customs business on behalf of clients by whom he was not employed and the compensation for those services were paid to PCNA.

The related Porsche subsidiaries could also take full advantage of the PCNA Customs Manager’s expertise if PCNA were to obtain its own corporate broker’s license. In that situation, PCNA as a licensed broker would be entitled to offer advice on customs business matters to other legal persons.

PCNA also inquires into the permits which would be required. No permits would be required if the licensed individual enters into bona fide employment relationships with each of the related subsidiaries, and works within the established parameters of such an arrangement, as described above. This is because in that situation the licensed individual would be serving in the capacity of an employee of each importer, not in the capacity of a customs broker. The requirement for a permit applies only to brokers, not to importers or to their employees (19 U.S.C. §1641(c)). The PCNA Customs Manager would be required to obtain permits if he were to open a customs brokerage on his own. At a minimum he would need a district permit, and might possibly also need a national permit if he were to conduct any of the four types of activities for which a national permit is required. Those activities are described in 19 CFR §111.2(b)(2)(i).


A licensed employee of an unlicensed corporation may provide customs advice to related subsidiary importers only to the extent that the advice furnished does not fall within the definition of “customs business”. To provide “customs business” advice, the licensed employee would either have to become a bona fide employee of each subsidiary, or would have to establish a separate customs brokerage business on his own. Alternatively, the licensed employee could advise the related importers on customs business matters if the corporate employer were to obtain its own broker’s license.


Larry L. Burton

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