ATA Carnet Essay

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The Anglo-French term ATA Carnet is derived from Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission. Carnet is a French word long used in English to refer to particular customs documents, presumably resulting from the frequent trade between the United Kingdom and France. Specifically, a carnet is a customs document that allows the item it covers to be imported without paying a customs duty (tax) on it. The ATA Carnet is used for goods that are going to be imported temporarily, and excuses the holder from all taxes that would normally apply.

The Customs Cooperation Council (now known as the World Customs Organization) first adopted ATA Carnet conventions in 1961, which are now issued according to an agreement administered by the International Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the World Customs Organization and the relevant entities of member nations, which actually issue the carnets. In many nations, the national chamber of commerce is the issuing body. In the United States, carnets are issued by the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), the business advocacy group that represents American business interests to the United Nations.

Over 150,000 ATA Carnets are issued annually, by 65 participating countries. Various other countries, especially smaller ones, are known to accept ATA Carnets without actually committing to the international guarantee to do so, and without issuing their own. A modified ATA Carnet, which does not cover exhibition goods, is used for trade between the United States and Taiwan: the TECRO/AIT Carnet (named for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, in the United States, and the American Institute in Taiwan).

ATA Carnets cannot be used for perishable goods, but the conceivable range of goods that could be covered is otherwise theoretically limitless. The three categories of goods for which such carnets are issued are goods brought into the country for exhibitions or fairs; professional equipment; and commercial samples. What those categories have in common is that all such goods are being brought into the country for some commercial purpose other than their sale or rent, and will be brought back out of the country as a result. Excusing such importation from tax encourages international business activity in the country of import, and in many cases leads to increased customs revenue for the country at a later date—such as if tax-free samples and demonstrations lead to sales of taxed goods.

ATA Carnets are granted by the home country of the exporter, which will have various requirements. The USCIB, for instance, requires a refundable cash deposit or surety bond equal to 40 percent of the value of the goods, as collateral. Similar collateral requirements are common in other countries, and the collateral is used to pay taxes if a claim is filed against the importer because of ineligibility for an ATA Carnet or because the time frame has expired. Such claims are filed by the country of import, the country that would have been collecting the customs taxes.

Other carnets include the Carnet de Passage, which is issued to motor vehicles and is typically used to distinguish (and excuse from customs duties) a vehicle that is the owner’s possession from vehicles imported for sale; and the International Road Transport (TIR) carnets used to harmonize the administration of road transport across multiple countries (especially in Europe).


  1. Richard J. Hunter Jr., “The ATA Carnet System,” Review of Business (March 22, 2001);
  2. Thomas E. Johnson, Export/Import Procedures and Documentation (AMACOM, 2002).

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