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Schumer and Gillibrand ask Canada to lower shopping tariffs

Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand want Canada to ease its duty-free trade restrictions so Canadians can cross the border to shop here more easily.

The current policy discourages cross-border shopping day trips and has less favorable allowances than what the United States imposes on its residents, Schumer and Gillibrand said. In a letter to Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer, they urged Canada to increase its duty-free threshold for Canadian shoppers, saying it would level the playing field.

“Businesses in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Plattsburgh and Watertown are missing out because Canada places a higher burden on its residents who shop in New York than the U.S. does on the New Yorkers who shop in Canada,” Gillibrand said in a prepared statement.

U.S. residents visiting Canada for less than 48 hours can legally bring up to $200 worth of merchandise back across the border, according to current American duty free policies, but Canadian shoppers must pay duty on all purchases made during visits shorter than 24 hours. Canadians shopping in the U.S. can avoid paying duty on up to $200 in purchases made during visits lasting from 24 to 48 hours, and up to $800 for trips longer than 48 hours.

The senators also pushed for changes in the way duty is levied on shipments ordered online. Canadian shoppers ordering from American companies are required to pay duty and fill out paperwork for anything shipped across the border valuing more than $20 Canadian. American shoppers, however, are allowed to order up to $200 in merchandise from Canada before having to deal with duty requirements. Some Canadian shoppers rent delivery boxes in the United States in order to avoid the fees, having online orders shipped to the American address then crossing the border to retrieve them.

The letter to Doer said an increase in the duty threshold would have a positive impact on cross-border trade, benefit both countries’ economies and give a boost to small e-commerce companies.

“Canada’s low de minimis threshold represents an unnecessary trade barrier between our two countries, particularly for low-value, low-risk shipments,” the letter read. “We respectfully urge the Canadian government to increase its de minimum threshold, ideally putting it on par with that of the United States, in order to further expand our historic and mutually beneficial trade relationship.”

The move would also make customs handling more efficient, they said, allowing border agents to devote more time to higher-risk shipments.