AKRON, OHIO — After years of grumbling by U.S. plastics machinery makers that the Department of Commerce overstates imports, help finally is on the way.
Under a new government policy, beginning Jan. 1, importers of injection molding machines used to process thermoplastics will be required to specify the clamp tonnages of their machines. In the past, they merely have had to identify the imported product as an injection molding machine.
Thermoplastics machines are by far the largest category of injection presses.
The change comes in response to a study by Washington lawyer Robert Branand that documents problems with the import data. Cincinnati Milacron Inc., the largest U.S.-owned plastics machinery maker, paid for the study by Robert Branand International, his global-trade consulting firm.
After the study, Branand made a proposal for changes on behalf of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the Association for Manufacturing Technology in McLean, Va., which represents companies that make machine tools.
Plastics equipment makers long have complained about inaccuracies in U.S. Customs Service import data. Upset with the numbers, the SPI Machinery Division initially stopped releasing Customs Service data publicly, then earlier this year stopped releasing its own internal data about U.S. shipments.
Branand reviewed imports from January 1995 through January 1997. His report raised lots of questions — including about 791 ``injection molding machines'' that cost less than $10,000, an unbelievably low price. The Customs Service conducted an internal review that turned up problems such as aluminum ingots, coils of wire and medical supplies being listed as injection molding machines.
``We would think that, by this time next year, the statistics for plastics injection molding machines for thermoplastics would be more accurate,'' Branand said in an Oct. 22 interview at Plastics News' offices in Akron.
The International Trade Commission has approved adding four more digits to the Harmonized Tariff System number that appears on injection presses, Branand said. The extra digits will specify one of four clamping-force categories.
Categories, in metric tons, are: zero to 49 tons, 50-299 tons, 300-749 tons and 750 tons and higher.
ITC expects to issue the new four-digit numbers within the next month, Branand said.
In another change, importers now must state on shipping documents that a product is a completed injection molding machine. U.S. machine makers have charged that parts, such as a screw or an injection unit, get counted as machines.
``Exporters from foreign countries will have to fill out invoices by stating that it is a complete machine with a clamp force of X-number of metric tons for thermoplastic molding,'' Branand said.
SPI, a Washington-based trade association, also has furnished the Customs Service with guidelines of what a machine should weigh, and average cost, for each of the four clamping-force categories. Weight and cost are listed in import documents.
The guidelines should help alert agents to imported items that are not really injection presses, Branand said.