John Peterson, Esq
Neville Peterson LLP
One Exchange Plaza
55 Broadway
Suite No. 2602
New York, NY 10006

RE: The country of origin of Sea Urchin Roe Skeins

Dear Mr. Peterson:

In your letter dated June 20, 2022, you requested a country of origin ruling determination on "Uni" on behalf of your clients JFC Fresh Inc. and Asahisuisan Co., Ltd (Tokyo, Japan).

The merchandise under consideration is "Uni" (also known as Sea Urchin Roe) which is essentially the sex organ of the sea urchin referred to as the gonads or corals. Five strips of Uni reside within the structure of an urchin, and range in color from rich gold to light yellow. They bear a resemblance to tongue in shape and outer texture with a creamy consistency.

You outline a scenario whereby divers from Chinese, Mexican or Russian flagged vessels harvest sea urchins in Japan. In various plants within the latter country, the sea urchins undergo processing that consists of cutting the shell around the mouth, removal of the mouth, splitting the shell for roe extraction, cleaning, draining, and treating the roe with alum for preservative purposes. The roe skeins are sorted by quality and size then packed. You state that the product is purchased by Asahisuisan Co., Ltd for sale to JFC Fresh Inc. who in turn will ship it by air to the United States for immediate use and consumption.

You seek a determination on the country of origin of the finished good.

The marking statute, section 304, Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1304), provides that, unless excepted, every article of foreign origin (or its container) imported into the U.S. shall be marked in a conspicuous place as legibly, indelibly and permanently as the nature of the article (or its container) will permit, in such a manner as to indicate to the ultimate purchaser in the U.S. the English name of the country of origin of the article.

As provided in section 134.41(b), Customs Regulations (19 CFR 134.41(b)), the country-of-origin marking is considered conspicuous if the ultimate purchaser in the U.S. is able to find the marking easily and read it without strain.

With regard to the permanency of a marking, section 134.41(a), Customs Regulations (19 CFR 134.41(a)), provides that as a general rule marking requirements are best met by marking worked into the article at the time of manufacture. For example, it is suggested that the country of origin on metal articles be die sunk, molded in, or etched. However, section 134.44, Customs Regulations (19 CFR 134.44), generally provides that any marking that is sufficiently permanent so that it will remain on the article until it reaches the ultimate purchaser unless deliberately removed is acceptable.

Part 134, CBP Regulations (19 C.F.R. 134) implements the country of origin marking requirements of 19 U.S.C. 1304. 19 C.F.R. 134.1(b) defines "country of origin" as:

[T]he country of manufacture, production, or growth of any article of foreign origin entering the United States. Further work or material added to an article in another country must effect a substantial transformation in order to render such other country the "country of origin" within the meaning of [the marking regulations]...

A substantial transformation occurs when an article emerges from a process with a new name, character or use different from that possessed by the article prior to processing. United States v. Gibson-Thomsen Co., Inc., 27 CCPA 267, C.A.D. 98 (1940); National Hand Tool Corp. v. United States, 16 CIT 308 (1992), aff'd, 989 F. 2d 1201 (Fed. Cir. 1993). However, if the manufacturing or combining process is merely a minor one that leaves the identity of the article intact, a substantial transformation has not occurred. Uniroyal, Inc. v. United States, 3 CIT 220, 542 F. Supp. 1026, 1029 (1982), aff'd, 702 F.2d 1022 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

A specialized rule governs seafood articles such that, unless the animal was caught or harvested within the territorial waters of a country, the country of origin follows the flag of the catching vessel. This rule of origin, the "Law of the Flag," was affirmed by the Court of International Trade in Koru North America v. United States, 701 F. Supp. 229 (CIT 1988). The court noted that "in international law, a ship on the high seas is considered foreign territory, functionally, 'a floating island of the country to which [it] belongs."

In the present case, the Uni (roe skeins) are harvested by Chinese, Mexican or Russian-flag vessels in the territorial waters of Japan, this office finds that the article is not substantially transformed due to the processing in Japan. Accordingly, based on the information presented, the Uni is a product of China, Mexico or Russia, respectively, for CBP marking purposes.

Please note that seafood is subject to the Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling ("COOL") requirements administered by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we advise you to check with that agency for their further guidance on your scenario. Contact information for AMS is as follows:

USDA-AMS-LS-SAT Room 2607-S, Stop 0254 1400 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20250-0254 Tel. (202) 720-4486 Website: www.ams.usda.gov/COOL Email address for inquiries: [email protected]

This ruling is being issued under the provisions of Part 177 of the Customs Regulations (19 C.F.R. 177).

A copy of the ruling or the control number indicated above should be provided with the entry documents filed at the time this merchandise is imported. If you have any questions regarding the ruling, contact National Import Specialist Ekeng Manczuk at [email protected]


Steven A. Mack
National Commodity Specialist Division