How de minimis have evolved from being small value to billions

What do Chinese cross-border e-commerce companies such as SHEIN, Temu, Wish, and others use to ship items to US customers? An in-efficient customs/trade regulation called “de minimis.”

So what is de minimis? The value is so small in the trade sector that it does not impose taxes or duties. Customers have an $800 de minimis daily, which means that customers will only incur duties and taxes for items that cost more than $800.

The de minimis rule in international trade law can refer to a few things. First, it can refer to the fact that items below a certain value do not attract taxes or customs duties. Second, it can refer to a rule regarding determining the country of origin of a good. Items made with an amount of material from a specific country that is below the de minimis level (often 7% of the item as a whole) will not be defined as originating from that country. Source: Curtis

So how big is the current impact of the current policy?
According to the US Chamber of Commerce,, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)– reports the global value of de minimis goods, including China, was nearly $40 billion in 2021 (the most recent publicly available numbers). There are 800 million shipments annually entering the US as de minimis imports which could indicate that large US retailers might be using this as a strategy for online fulfillment from Chinese factories.

The History of the US de minimis - then and now
It is important to recognize that in 2016 the US increased its de minimis from $200 to $800. The reason for the increased de minimis was to lessen the burden on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which was being hamstrung by increased volumes of packages. Since then, e-commerce has become more mainstream, and companies have used a combination of bonded warehouses and de minimis to pay less taxes and customs costs.

In 2016 the increased de minimis occurred as US and China relations were more stable; offshoring of manufacturing was the norm, and free trade and a global village were spoken about more often. Fast forward to 2023, there is increasing distrust between US and China, investment in US manufacturing and an easing of free global trade all point to decreased de minimis.

Global de minimis fees showcase the US is an outlier as other markets with higher values have additional conditions for importing goods.

Screenshot 2023-06-21 at 22.29.01
Source: Zonos

The Hill is paying attention to de minimis
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Import Security and Fairness Act to end de minimis treatment for goods from China and Russia, and to require CBP to obtain more information about de minimis packages entering the country.

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the De Minimis Reciprocity Act of 2023 to stop China and other countries from abusing U.S. trade laws that allow small dollar imports into the U.S. duty-free. The bill would bar Chinese exports from entry via the expedited “de minimis” channel and reduce the threshold for duty-free imports into the U.S. to an amount that matches the threshold our trade partners use, ensuring reciprocity and increasing transparency at our borders.

This bill if passed, will have a significant impact on companies such as SHEIN and Temu, who would then need to build local warehousing and pay additional taxes for imports of goods made in China.

To be clear - this is not a free trade deal for Chinese companies but an opportunity for US regulators to redraw and modernize outdated customers and taxes.

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Showing the US alongside other countries really brings it home for me.

I truly think most US consumers have no idea what duties are as a concept. We walk by the duty free store at the airport and wonder “what’s this”.

I do think there is a cost to businesses in the US to an extremely high de minimus that remains unreported.

Outstanding post


The UK significantly reworked de-minimis as an outcome of BrExit (to simplify and capture more revenue), and Hendrik’s comparison above doesn’t tell the whole story from the point of view of an ecommerce customer. (I will put to one side the additional complexities of moving goods across the UK-EU land border in Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland).

The lack of a VAT (Sale tax) de-minimis is a significant blocker to inbound parcels to the UK. The big platforms like eBay and Amazon have a working agreement with UK customs to charge and remit VAT on customer orders (and these are flagged up on parcel labels by various means). Also duty (but probably not excise on e.g. alcohol, perfume, tobacco)

But if the sender hasn’t somehow charged and remitted VAT, then the parcel is stopped and falls into a import process that is practically a monopoly of Parcelforce–customer is sent a notification (postcard in the post) requesting payment against a tracking number (online or at a post office). That payment includes a £8 handling fee on top of the VAT/excise owed (or duty if above £135). Which can make small cheap items very expensive. Some Asian businesses now clear stocks to the UK and dispatch from UK (paying VAT on sales normally). When UK was part of EU then there was much freer trade for ecommerce parcels crossing UK-EU border either way; there was a modest de-minimis for VAT (most parcels just passed through) and simpler payment rules.

Parcels originating Russia and Belarus: no de-minimis and other special rules.

Books and magazines (unless antique and especially valuable) are not assessed for VAT or Duty at all (CN22/CN23 of “printed papers”, and CN22/CN23 not technically required by UK but often required by origin), but some platforms do not handle this correctly.

And there has been something of a crackdown on the use of false VAT numbers on platforms like eBay and Amazon (which was creating unfair trade on inexpensive goods where Asian traders could undercut UK based traders).

All of which is why EBay (and I think Amazon) have been reworking their global programmes recently.

The de minimis topic is complicated - the comparison was to show the impact of fees. @Miles_Thomas, I appreciate your explanation and your showing its impact on the UK.

For the China model to work, you have to combine something which reduces the tax burden to allow selling at a lower cost along with the costs of delivery. Combining “de minimis” tax avoidance with the discounted shipping rates offered through UPU agreements is what allows the direct shipment of items from China to the US far cheaper than having those same products containerized to the US (paying import duties) and then fulfilling domestically (at a higher price than the cost to ship direct from China). The combination there actually encourages these numerous small direct to consumer shipments, so we can’t fault people for using the system as it currently exists to their greatest advantage.

Then combine that with the ultra-fast fashion segment and that’s likely how some of these “TikTok trends” are being processed, as referenced in this WSJ story from earlier in the week: American Companies Held Hostage by the Whims of TikTok - WSJ

Edikted, a fast-fashion company, releases 150 monthly styles based on viral TikTok clips, said the founder and chief executive, Dedy Shwartzberg. The company has technology that monitors popular TikTok videos and identifies which styles to copy, as does its team of trend experts.

To keep up with the app’s rapid trend cycle, these companies manufacture on an on-demand basis—a model used by other fast-fashion brands, including Shein. They subcontract to third-party factories, often in China, and place orders in small batches, keeping inventory levels low. Shwartzberg said Edikted averages a 12-day turnaround.

It’s interesting to see how each of these pieces come together, and then what kind of reaction US officials have when they realize they’ve put systems in place that actually discourage domestic US activity, and then if they actually do anything other than scream and complain.