Johnny Depp sends a message to Australian exporters

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have been sent to the dogs over their contempt for Australian customs laws. So what will the wrong import declaration cost you?

Even those envious of Johnny Depp’s lifestyle would not want the attention he and his wife Amber Heard are receiving at the moment. But it is a useful reminder that no matter how cute your dogs are or how many pirate movies you have starred in, it doesn’t pay to get on the wrong side of Customs or Quarantine officials!

For those who might have missed the drama, Depp and Heard made a high-rating appearance in a Queensland court this week to answer charges relating to their illegal importation of Heard’s two dogs, Boo and Pistol, who hitched a ride to the Gold Coast on their private jet last April. Australia’s Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, made headlines around the globe when he demanded the couple remove their dogs – “or we… have to euthanase them”:

“There is a process if you want to bring animals: you get the permits, they go into quarantine and then you can have them,” he said at the time. “But if we start letting movie stars – even though they’ve been the sexiest man alive twice – to come into our nation [and break the laws], then why don’t we just break the laws for everybody?

“It’s time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States.”

In court this week, Ms Heard was handed a one-month good behaviour bond with no recorded conviction, after pleading guilty to falsifying quarantine documents. An apology filmed by the famous pair to reinforce the importance of, and their respect for, Australia’s renowned quarantine laws, has since gone viral around the world. It attracted comparisons to “a hostage video” by comedian Ricky Gervais, and reminded Barnaby Joyce of “auditioning for the Godfather”. The trending twitter feeds on the subject certainly make for entertaining reading! (#deppdogs #pistolandboo)

The underlying message, however, is obviously a very serious one. And exporters are learning similar lessons as they attempt to take advantage of Australia’s newest Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). FTAs aren’t there to give photo opportunities to politicians; they are designed to give Australian products special access to markets – if they have the right documents.

The Ai Group Export Documents team has doubled in size recently to cope with the increased demand from members to register their products in China and to get the China Australia FTA certificates of origin that will prove that their products are Australian made. We spend our days helping companies to understand the FTA rules that apply to their products and what information they need to supply to keep out of trouble.

A common problem is when exporters only take advice from their importers on what customs code to use or what duty to pay. It is always risky to take advice from someone who has everything to gain, but risks nothing. As the exporter, you will be investigated and you will face the fines. We work through these issues with companies and point them in the right direction.

So, all going well, you won’t have anything to apologise for…

If you need some help with China, or any market, please call Eunsil Hwang on (03) 9867 0132 or email our Export Documents team

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Having joined Ai Group in 2000, Louise has managed a number of trade-related projects including trade missions, business matching and the development of export-related training programs. Since 2009 she has led Ai Group's service delivery to our smaller associations, providing governance, policy and business development support, and is Executive Officer of the Australia Saudi Business Council and the Australian Russian Dialogue.

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