Before importing certain foreign agricultural products into the United States, or obtaining them from an importer or broker, you’ll need to find out what entry requirements apply to them. Learning the requirements can help you minimize confusion, prevent costly delays, and avoid penalties and merchandise loss.
To prevent risks of diseases and agricultural pests in basic products entering into the United Sates such as, meats, animals, animal products, fruits, vegetables, plants, soil, seeds, and plant-based handicrafts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the entry of certain foreign agricultural products into the country.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforces APHIS regulations at ports of entry. CBP agriculture specialists inspect shipments of imported products and ensure that the required permits, sanitary certificates (for animal products), and phytosanitary certificates (for plant products) accompany each shipment.
Sanitary and phytosanitary certificates are legal documents issued by an exporting country to certify that a shipment meets U.S. plant and animal health standards. For example, a phytosanitary certificate may confirm that certain fumigation treatments have been performed or that the shipment was inspected prior to export and found free of pests and diseases of concern.
Importers should keep in mind that APHIS regulates plants and animals, as well as all products derived from plants and animals; for example, seeds for planting and seeds used in decorative craft items are both regulated items.
To enter the United States legally, even commercially processed and packaged products may require a permit or documentation from the country of export, certifying that the products meet U.S. animal and plant health standards.
Importers should also be aware that some products from certain countries or regions cannot be imported at all due to the presence of pests and diseases that do not occur in the United States.
Plants and Plant Products
To find out general import requirements for certain plants and plant products, go to the APHIS Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements (FAVIR) database. The FAVIR database allows customers to search for fruits and vegetables by commodity or country, providing a quick and easy way for users to determine basic entry requirements for their specific products.
Simply select the type of fruit or vegetable in the “Approved Name” field and choose the country of origin in the “Country/Region” field. You will then receive one of the following results:
“0 entries found”—this means that the fruit or vegetable is NOT allowed into the United States.
“# entry(ies) found [followed by the name of the commodity and the name of the country].” If this text appears, click on “CIR” to view the commodity import report.
If the import requirements say “1 Subject to Inspection…”, the fruit or vegetable is allowed into the United States pending inspection.
If the import requirements say “Condition of entry treatment,” the fruit or vegetable is subject to additional treatments at the port of entry in order to enter the United States.
APHIS also regulates the importation of plants and plant products, including plants for planting (i.e., nursery stock and small lots of seed); agricultural products (i.e., timber, cotton and cut flowers); handicraft items made from plant parts (i.e., baskets); protected plants and plant products (i.e., orchids); and threatened and endangered plant species.
To import foreign fruits and vegetables, plants, seeds, and plant products, an importer must apply for an agricultural import permit from APHIS and obtain a phytosanitary certificate from the exporting country. Phytosanitary certificates verify that plant quarantine officials from the exporting country have examined the plants for pests and diseases prior to export.
Certificates also identify the plants by their scientific names and confirm that the shipment meets U.S. regulations for importation.
U.S. importers should obtain agricultural permits for shipments far in advance of their transport. To request an import permit, contact APHIS at:
USDA-APHIS, Plant Protection and Quarantine
4700 River Road, Unit 133
Riverdale, MD 20737
Phone: (877) 770-5990 or (301) 851-2046
Email: [email protected]
The e-Permits System
APHIS also offers the ePermits system, a Web-based tool that allows importers to apply for a permit, check its status, and view it on the Internet.
The system minimizes the time it takes to complete permit applications, process data, and issue permits. To find out how to apply for a permit online, please visit www.aphis.usda.gov/permits/learn_epermits.shtml. To register for the ePermits system, go to www.aphis.usda.gov/permits/eauth_epermits.shtml.
(Note to Importers: Certain imports may also require a State permit or other documents from local agriculture, fish and wildlife, or environmental agencies. Additionally, State agencies may have supplemental permit requirements.)
Agricultural Smuggling and Trade Compliance
Each year, the volume of smuggled and improperly imported agricultural products entering the United States grows. In response, APHIS works to identify the unlawful entry and distribution of prohibited agricultural products. These products may harbor harmful exotic plant and animal pests, diseases, or invasive species that could seriously damage America’s crops, livestock, and environment.
APHIS officers canvas local markets and grocery stores around the country and monitor Internet commerce to seek prohibited agricultural commodities.
If they find an illegally imported product or regulatory violation, APHIS may seize the item and pursue civil and criminal penalties, if warranted.
Therefore, it is important for distributors and market owners to purchase products that have been imported through legal channels. Likewise, it is important to verify and maintain shipping documents and invoices associated with agricultural commodities.
If vendors are not aware that they are selling prohibited items, the APHIS official onsite will explain Federal regulations and begin an importation trace to find the illegal pathway. Market owners should report suspected agricultural smuggling to APHIS.
For more information about APHIS’ efforts to prevent the entry or distribution of prohibited agricultural products, please call (800) 877-3835 .
Information Provided By USDA APHIS