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Customs law

Our specialist customs lawyers advise on international trade and international tax issues. Our clients receive practical advice that fits their business objectives.

Cooper Grace Ward’s customs practice is managed by partner Fletch Heinemann. Fletch worked in the commercial compliance division of the Australian Customs Service in its halcyon days, where he investigated tariff, valuation and origin risks (the customs service is now run by Australian Border Force).

Fletch then worked in the customs, indirect tax and transfer pricing teams of a Big 4 accounting firm in the UK and then China, before returning to Australia with international law firm Baker & McKenzie.

Our team helps clients with customs issues in a way that aligns with clients’ other tax and business objectives.

Our customs lawyers have been recognised in independent market research conducted by Best Lawyers Australia and Doyle’s Guide. Both publications have identified Cooper Grace Ward as a leading tax law firm for many years running.

Our clients value our focus on delivering practical, commercial legal solutions. The types of questions they ask us are outlined below.

For further information or advice on customs and trade legal issues for your business, contact us on (07) 3231 2444.

Have you considered:

  • reviewing your valuation method
  • checking your tariff classifications are correct
  • seeing if you are eligible for existing tariff concession orders
  • applying for a new tariff concession order
  • whether the changes to Free Trade Agreements affect your imported goods
  • making sure that payments that are not for imported goods are properly excluded
  • checking to make sure your supply chain is as efficient as possible.

Have you considered:

  • applying for a tariff advice
  • asking for a legal opinion to check whether your existing treatment is correct or there are options for improvement.

There are strict time limits for obtaining a refund of customs duty, so you should seek advice as soon as possible.

A refund is only payable in particular circumstances. It is important to make sure your facts fit within one of the refund reason codes, and that this is properly described to the Department.

Transfer pricing adjustments can affect customs duty and import GST liabilities in certain circumstances.

Documentation is critical to optimising the income tax and customs duty/ import GST position. This documentation will include not only your transfer pricing documentation, but must include provisions in the contract of sale of the goods that will give effect to any adjustments.

You can give the Department an error notice. It’s important that the notice is drafted to comply with the legislation to reduce the risk of a penalty being imposed for initially providing false or misleading information.

The error notice also needs to be provided before the Department takes any step to verify the information – so it’s important to act quickly.

In our experience, the first response is the best opportunity to achieve a cost-effective and successful result. It’s important that it is done properly, as it can be difficult to turn a decision‑maker around once their audit position is committed to writing.

Sometimes disputes cannot be resolved with the original decision-maker and need the benefit of a third party review from the AAT or Federal Court. Even in that context, disputes are often resolved well before any hearing if managed well.

Anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation cases can be tough work. This is because of the different areas that come into play including:

  • correctly interpreting the legislation
  • managing relationships with overseas suppliers to get the required information
  • compiling the financial and economic data to match the requirements in the legislation
  • making it clear what evidence should be given weight and what evidence should be rejected
  • often, unfortunately, managing competing political issues.

In our experience, a useful strategy is to prioritise the big-ticket items. If these can be won convincingly, the smaller items often fall into line. Winning the big-ticket items is generally done by collating all of the required supporting evidence in a form that will be persuasive to the decision-maker.

We recommend you have your engagement agreements regularly reviewed by lawyers.

The law on the extent of an adviser’s duty to their client continues to evolve. This creates a tension with cost-conscious clients who only want limited services. It’s important that your agreement properly scopes the work that you will perform and the work that you won’t perform.

Despite the best intentions, issues with clients arise. It’s important how you manage the response as there are different objectives, such as:

  • not doing anything that voids your insurance policy
  • doing what is possible to minimise any loss to the client (while not doing anything that voids your insurance policy)
  • keeping the client
  • getting paid.

Licensing issues generally require a consideration of the customs legislation and administrative law.

In our experience, the first response is the best opportunity to achieve a cost-effective and successful result. It’s important that it is done properly as it can be difficult to turn a decision‑maker around once their position is committed to writing.

Have you considered:

  • checking whether existing tariff concession orders are appropriate or are eligible to be revoked
  • looking at whether the imported goods may have been dumped or received support from a subsidy overseas.

Key contacts

Fletch Heinemann
Sarah Lancaster


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