Importing solar modules: what you need to know when requesting an advance ruling from customs

Buyers or manufacturers of solar PV modules in the United States navigating the WRO should consider obtaining an advance ruling from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before entering into a transaction. This can speed up the eventual import review process and also prevent you from committing to a transaction that will be submitted to the WRO and held when it arrives at port.

FYI: If items shipped to the United States are detained, they are the responsibility of the importer of record, including the costs of storing the detained shipment in CBP warehouses.

The ruling itself is a written statement from CBP, which interprets customs laws based on a specific set of facts. The decision is in response to a written request, and that request must include that specific set of facts. All information concerning the advance ruling process is on the US Customs website. So start there and arm yourself with what you need to do.

Don’t confuse this with the legal advice page, but we did hear about some best practices and general notes to consider when requesting an advance ruling on a recent SEIA webinar. Hopefully this helps clear up some points of confusion or lead to a faster response from CBP.

  • Since each letter is individualized based on that specific set of facts (and the documentation you will send is so dense), this process may take some time. No, there is no general timetable. Advance ruling requests are taken in the order in which they are received.
  • The ruling only applies to future transactions, not pending transactions. If the deal is sealed or the shipment is on the way, you’re definitely too late.
  • Requests should include full statements of all relevant facts related to the transaction – all interested parties, ports, supply chain, etc. The more information provided in advance, the better. Be as present as possible.
  • When submitting electronic documents to CBP, it helps to put everything neatly into a shared folder, rather than sending multiple emails with zip files and PDFs. And any summary or roadmap to help you navigate it all will only help.
  • Make sure all information is accurate and complete. If the application is incomplete or inaccurate in any way, you will be asked to correct or provide more and slow everything down.
  • The decision letter applies only to the recipient of the letter.
  • The recipient may rely on the decision for subsequent transactions provided that all facts of the subsequent transactions are substantially the same.
  • An advance ruling will always need to be verified with the actual transaction. Thus, a ruling does not eliminate consideration of the actual transaction and importation, but it does bring the agency’s attention to when the actual transaction and importation occurs.

Hopefully, this prior due diligence speeds things up and, more importantly, prevents entering into transactions that violate the WRO.

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We have a ton of video interviews and additional content on our YouTube page. Recently we debuted Power forward! — a collaboration with BayWa re to discuss high-level industry topics as well as best practices/trends for running a solar business today.

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