Small importers may soon begin to feel the heat from new U.S. Customs Service rules. The government aims to ensure that 95% of duties are properly paid, up from an estimated 80% in 1995, partly to recoup revenue lost from shrinking duties under NAFTA, GATT, and other agreements. Since 1996, Customs has initiated some 300 "assessments" of companies' compliance. The largest 20% of importers account for 80% of imports, so megacorps such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were first hit. But in the next few years, Customs will start looking at smaller companies, too. In the past, small businesses hired import specialists to take care of complex paperwork, but new rules of "informed compliance" and "shared responsibility" mean no buck-passing. Customs is trying to help importers wade through the vast minutiae of import classifications. There's a wealth of info at, including customs-assessment-team documents that importers need.

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