Real estate agent Dean Abedin

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Understanding the Free Trade Agreement Preference Criterion

If you are a business owner or importer/exporter considering expanding your international trade, you may have heard of free trade agreements (FTAs) and the benefits they can provide. FTAs are agreements between countries that reduce or eliminate tariffs (taxes on imports) and other trade barriers, making it easier and cheaper to trade goods and services across borders. However, not all FTAs are the same, and not all products qualify for the same tariff treatment under them. That`s where the FTA preference criterion comes into play.

The FTA preference criterion is a set of rules that determine whether a product is eligible for a lower or zero tariff under a specific FTA. These rules vary depending on the FTA and the product, but they generally consider three factors: the origin of the product, the content of the product, and the process of production of the product. Let`s explore each of these factors in more detail.

1. Origin: The origin of a product refers to where it was made or grown. To qualify for FTA tariff treatment, a product must originate or be sufficiently transformed in one of the participating countries. This means that a product that is assembled in one country but contains parts or materials from other countries may not qualify for the FTA preference criterion if the non-originating content exceeds a certain threshold (usually expressed as a percentage of the ex-works price). The purpose of this rule is to prevent third-party countries from taking advantage of the FTA and to incentivize local sourcing and manufacturing.

2. Content: The content of a product refers to the percentage of the final value of the product that is added by the participating countries. This includes both the direct and indirect costs of production, such as labor, materials, and overhead. To qualify for FTA tariff treatment, a product must meet a minimum content requirement that varies depending on the FTA and the product. For example, a car that is exported from the United States to Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) must have at least 62.5% of its net cost of materials, parts, and labor originate in Canada, the United States, or Mexico. The purpose of this rule is to promote intra-regional trade and to prevent third-party countries from merely assembling components from different countries and claiming FTA benefits.

3. Process: The process of production of a product refers to how it was made or transformed. Some FTAs impose specific rules of origin that require certain processes to be performed in the participating countries. For example, the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) allows developing countries to export certain products to developed countries at lower tariffs, but only if they use local materials and labor to produce them or undertake specified manufacturing processes. The purpose of this rule is to foster economic development in the beneficiary countries and to ensure that the FTA benefits go to those who need them the most.

By applying these three factors, the FTA preference criterion aims to ensure that only qualifying products can enjoy the tariff benefits of an FTA and that these benefits are shared fairly among the participating countries. The FTA preference criterion is usually enforced by customs authorities, who may require exporters and importers to provide proof of origin and compliance with the relevant rules. Failure to meet the FTA preference criterion can result in higher tariffs, fines, or other penalties.

As a business owner or importer/exporter, understanding the FTA preference criterion is crucial to maximize the benefits of FTAs and avoid unnecessary costs and risks. You should consult with a trade specialist or a customs broker to determine whether your products qualify for FTA tariff treatment and to ensure that you comply with the relevant rules of origin, content, and process. By doing so, you can enhance your competitiveness, expand your market access, and contribute to a more open and prosperous global trading system.