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U.S. Customs Holiday Shopping Guide

American Forces Press Service

MANNHEIM, Germany, Dec. 4, 1997 – Some people overseas have a knack for buying great Christmas gifts. Unfortunately, U.S. Customs officials may disagree when it comes to mailing those gifts to the United States.

Many "great gifts" cannot be imported into the United States. "Meat and meat products are a major concern," said David Reeves, U.S. Department of Agriculture adviser to U.S. European Command.

"European delicacies like French pate, German wurst, Spanish chorizo salami and Italian ham are easily available in Europe and much sought-after in the United States," Reeves said. "Unfortunately, they can also carry spores which spread foot-and-mouth disease. This livestock disease has been eradicated in the United States and that's why these products, all canned meats and even soup mixes containing meat are banned."

Fresh fruits and vegetables are also banned because they can carry pests like the Mediterranean fruit fly. Violations of customs, agriculture or mail regulations can lead to heavy fines and confiscation of the goods, Reeves said. "The threat to U.S. agriculture is so great, the Department of Agriculture will fine anyone who mails or carries banned foods to the states a minimum of $250. Criminal action for deliberate smuggling cases can lead to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail."

Wildlife goods are also a problem for customs officials. It's not a good idea to buy ivory for a gift. "Only ivory pieces registered with the U.S. Customs Service may be imported," said Norman Kaucher,U.S. Customs Service program manager at EUCOM. "Whale teeth carvings commonly called 'netsuke' or 'scrimshaw' are also prohibited from import," Kaucher added.

When it comes to buying furs or other wildlife goods, shoppers should always insist on a certificate of origin stating the animal's scientific name. This avoids purchasing illegal products from endangered species, he said.

The oriental water pipe is another purchase consumers should avoid. Known as "hookahs,""chillums" or "bongs," these pipes may look nice on a mantelpiece, but the U.S. Customs Service bans them as drug paraphernalia.

Although Iranian mats, rugs and carpets are popular purchases abroad, they too are banned from the United States because of the embargo on Iran; however, Persian-style carpeting made in other countries is not restricted.

Cuban rum and cigars are also often available overseas but likewise prohibited from stateside importation because of economic sanctions.

European countries boast fine wines and spirits. Several produce liquor-filled candies that make original Christmas gifts. Unfortunately, U.S. Postal Service regulations prohibit mailing alcohol -- even inside candy.

U.S. Customs laws allow travelers over 21 to import one liter of liquor duty-free. Travelers may bring with them additional quantities by paying federal taxes and duties.

Regulations also prohibit using the U.S. Postal Service to ship counterfeit copies of trademarked items. Producers of popular goods -- from shoes and clothing to perfumes and jewelry -- often register their trademarks with the U.S. Customs Service. Customs officials inspect packages and mail for fake designer products.

"People who want to check on a particular product can get a 'Trademark Information' pamphlet from customs," Kaucher said.

Military customs offices have more information on what items to avoid during the holiday gift-giving season. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)

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