Update on Optical Products Made in Thailand

Update November 13, 2019

For years, optical products made in Thailand and meeting certain requirements have enjoyed duty-free entry into the United States under a multilateral trade program called the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Plastic spectacle lenses of Thai-origin are one such product.

That benefit, however, was threatened earlier this year when the dollar amount of exports of Thai-origin plastic lenses exceeded the GSP program ceiling, known as a competitive-needs limitation (CNL). Interested parties were invited to comment on whether a CNL waiver should be granted for these plastic lenses. The Vision Council, working closely with its affected Lens Division members and the Thai government, submitted a petition requesting the waiver, setting out reasons why plastic lenses made in Thailand should still benefit from GSP eligibility. Thereafter, Greg Chavez, The Vision Council's executive vice president of operations and membership, testified before both the United States International Trade Commission and the United States Trade Representative's Office (USTR) on behalf of the association in support of the waiver.

The Vision Council's efforts were successful, and last week the USTR granted the CNL waiver. As a result, and at least until the next review period, Thai-origin plastic lenses remain duty-free when imported into the U.S. if they satisfy the GSP eligibility requirements.

Not all news relating to Thailand and the GSP is good, however. Also last week, Thailand lost GSP eligibility for approximately one-third of its exports to the U.S. market. This loss was tied to the Thai government's failure to meet U.S. demands regarding a variety of workers' rights issues. Therefore, on April 25, 2020, the following Thai-origin optical products will lose GSP eligibility and become subject to customs duty when imported into the U.S.:

  • Contact lenses of HTS 9001.30.00
  • Spectacle lenses of glass of HTS 9001.40.00
  • Spectacles, goggles and the like, corrective or otherwise, other than sunglasses, of HTS 9004.90.00 (This will include finished Rx eyeglasses that are Thai-origin and over-the-counter reading glasses of Thai-origin).

The items covered by these three tariff numbers, and thousands of other Thai-origin products imported under other designated tariff numbers, are the casualties of the U.S. government's finding on the Thai workers' rights issue. Unlike the CNL waiver process used by The Vision Council to secure the GSP waiver for Thai-origin plastic lenses, no process exists to petition for relief from the U.S. government's broader conclusion on the workers' rights issue or the way the U.S. fashioned its relief by removing GSP eligibility for certain, but not all, Thai-origin products.

In the future, the GSP can be restored if the U.S. deems that Thailand has adequately addressed the workers' rights issues. The Vision Council will keep an eye on this issue and report if the GSP for these other optical products is restored.

General questions about this issue can be directed to Rick Van Arnam, The Vision Council's regulatory affairs counsel, at rvanarnam@barnesrichardson.com.