In August 2010, I took the bold step of starting a tea business in a coffee-drinking nation – Mexico. My plan was to import a small quantity of tea from India and sell it retail in my tea house.

Very soon I learned that importing tea is not an easy business, although getting an import license is a fairly easy job. The first samples of tea I imported from India were returned after reaching the Guadalajara gateway airport in Mexico. The second samples of tea were subjected to scrutiny by customs officials in Guadalajara. It was a wake-up call. I pleaded with them not to send the tea back to India, but to test the samples. Thankfully, the samples were sent to Mexico City for laboratory tests and eventually the tea was released by customs. I was elated and waited eagerly for the samples.

Being a law graduate, I gradually acquainted myself with the customs rules and regulations involved in importing tea to Mexico. My experience with customs in Mexico could be a lesson to all importers based in Mexico as well as to exporters based in the countries of origin, such as India, Sri Lanka, China, and Kenya. I import tea from various tea-growing nations with ease now and, in the process, I acquaint exporters with the customs regulations in Mexico that they must adhere to it if they want a market in Mexico. Those that don’t abide by the rules find that their tea is seized or quarantined by customs.

Because Mexico has had to battle drug cartels, the rules are strict. All tea and herbs must be labeled in Spanish with nutritional information, date of production, date of expiration, and importer and exporter details. The commercial invoice must in a prescribed format and the harmonized system code must clearly mention each item of tea imported. As importers and exporters, our duty is to make the work easy for customs officials. A certificate of origin is also an essential component to determine the origin of products. In the case of non-compliance, a massive duty can be levied on the importer, including an anti-dumping duty, which is levied if the goods originate in China, and may amount to 60 to 120 percent.  The only entry point in Mexico for tea is the Mexico City Gateway. This has been done purposefully to enable each port of entry or airport gateway to specialize in a specific product.

To facilitate the easy and effective entry of tea and herbs into Mexico, both importers and exporters must work hand in hand. The importers must convey the exact rules and guidelines to the exporters, and they must both abide by the same and furnish all details.

Very recently, to my surprise, a supplier from India sent us a few tea samples without the address of the consignee and without any requisite documents, but I finally managed to get the tea samples released.

I hope the information in this post will pave the way for other importers like me and exporters to devise a common strategy so that they comply strictly with the regulations imposed and thereby minimize risk and loss of time and business.

This article was originally posted to T Ching in February of 2012.

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