Plants, Phytosanitary Certificates, and Import Permits

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In addition to US Customs, many other US Federal government agencies regulate specific types of imported goods, and have their own additional requirements for some types of items.  This is particularly true for imports of plants and plant products, which can be subject to a dizzying variety of special requirements.

Import shipments of many types of plants, and plant products, are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  Within APHIS, Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) is responsible for protecting American agriculture against economically and environmentally significant pests.  APHIS PPQ programs are designed to prevent entry into the US of:

  • plants which are themselves pests, or may lead to environmental damage if they become established in the United States

  • insects, slugs and snails, and other animal pests

  • plant diseases, including rusts, rots, and cankers

The current APHIS “US Regulated Plant Pest Table” includes over 6,000 listings of pest types which:

  • are a quarantine pest for all or parts of the US, and

  • have been detected during port or entry inspections within the last five years

To minimize the potential for these unwanted visitors to establish themselves in the US, APHIS  maintains specific requirements for:

  • what types of fruits and vegetables, from what countries (or areas within a country) may be imported into the US

  • which types of items require fumigation or other treatment to kill possible pests, before import into the US

  • specific types of treatment options for specific types of fruits and vegetables

  • items for which an APHIS import permit is required

Much of this information is listed in the Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements (FAVIR) database, and in the Treatment Manual on the APHIS website.  The FAVIR database is searchable by country / region, and by the “approved name” of a plant or plant product.

If a combination of item and country of origin is not already approved for import into the US, an interested party such as a prospective importer or foreign supplier can request that APHIS add it to the list of approved commodities.  The approval process details are also available on the APHIS website.

Requirements for other types of plants and plant products are also listed in electronic manuals available on the APHIS website.

Another part of the defense against pests is inspection of the imported product, before it leaves the country of origin.  For some items, USDA officers stationed abroad conduct pre-shipment inspections. 

For a broader range of items, APHIS may require a “Phytosanitary Certificate” issued by a government agency in the exporting country.  This certificate is issued after inspection of the item has found that the item appears to be:

  • free of pests (including diseases), and

  • in suitable condition for export

Phytosanitary certificates may be issued by the country of exportation (and required by the country of importation) for many types of plants and plant products, including:

  • live plants

  • edible fruits and vegetables, or other edible parts of plants

  • grain, legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils, some spices, and similar types of unprocessed or semi-processed foods

  • seeds, bulbs, tubers, and the like, for plant propagation

  • wood

  • plant-based fibers such as cotton and flax

As an additional layer of regulation, APHIS also requires US importers to have an import permit for many types of plants and plant products.  Permit application information is available on the APHIS website.  Permits are commonly issued for a three year period, and can be renewed prior to expiration date, usually for a similar period.

For many types of wood and wood products, APHIS separately requires importers to provide a “Plant and Plant Product Declaration Form” to comply with Lacey Act reporting requirements.  This program is intended to combat trafficking of illegal imports of endangered plants, including several types of tropical hardwoods.

To avoid potential issues with US Customs, APHIS, and other regulatory agencies that share responsibility for managing imports of plants and plant products, importers should take these steps before they place an order that includes any of those products:

  • check what (if any) APHIS or other agency requirements apply to any of the items in the planned shipment

  • verify whether any items are prohibited, or restricted to specific origins and/or destinations

  • apply for an APHIS import permit for any types of items that require this type of permit

  • instruct your supplier to arrange for phytosanitary certificates, and/or Lacey Act declarations, for any items that require them

  • maintain a record of your compliance with agency requirements

  • provide full details and documentation to your customs broker, preferably before shipment

Transmark Customs Brokers gladly assists our valued clients in identifying these types of issues, and helping arrange the correct types of documentation to meet even the most complex APHIS and other agency requirements.  We have found that a careful pre-shipment review can often prevent what could have been very expensive additional costs, and substantial delays in cargo release and delivery.