Under § 303 (a) of the Tariff Act of 1930, 46 Stat. 687, as amended, 19 U. S. C. § 1303 (a) (1976 ed.), whenever a foreign country pays a "bounty or grant" upon the exportation of a product from that country, the Secretary of the Treasury is required to levy a countervailing duty, "equal to the net amount of such bounty or grant," upon importation of the product into the United States.
Under the Commodity Tax Law of Japan, Law No. 48 of 1962, see App. 44-48, a variety of consumer goods, including the electronic products at issue here, are subject to an "indirect" tax—a tax levied on the goods themselves, and computed as a percentage of the manufacturer's sales price rather than the income or wealth of the purchaser or seller. The Japanese tax applies both to products manufactured in Japan and to those imported into Japan.
In April 1970 petitioner, an American manufacturer of consumer electronic products, filed a petition with the Commissioner of Customs,
Petitioner then filed suit in the Customs Court, claiming that the Treasury Department had erred in concluding that remission of the Japanese Commodity Tax was not a bounty or grant within the purview of the countervailing-duty statute.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the Customs Court ruled in favor of petitioner and ordered the Secretary to assess countervailing duties on all Japanese consumer electronic
On appeal by the Government, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, dividing 3-2, reversed the judgment of the Customs Court and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the United States. 64 C. C. P. A. 130, 562 F.2d 1209 (1977). The majority opinion distinguished Downs on the ground that it did not decide the question of whether nonexcessive remission of an indirect tax, standing alone, constitutes a bounty or grant upon exportation. The court then examined the language of § 303 and the legislative history of the 1897 provision and concluded that, "in determining whether a bounty or grant has been conferred, it is the economic result of the foreign government's action which controls." 64 C. C. P. A., at 138-139, 562 F. 2d, at 1216. Relying primarily on the "long-continued" and "uniform" administrative practice, id., at 142-143, 146-147, 562 F. 2d, at 1218-1219, 1222-1223, and secondarily on congressional "acquiescence" in this practice through repeated re-enactment of the controlling statutory language, id., at 143-144, 562 F. 2d, at 1220, the court held that interpretation of "bounty or grant" so as not to include a nonexcessive remission of an indirect tax is "a lawfully permissible interpretation of § 303." Id., at 147, 562 F. 2d, at 1223.
We granted certiorari, 434 U.S. 1060 (1978), and we now affirm.
It is undisputed that the Treasury Department adopted the statutory interpretation at issue here less than a year after passage of the basic countervailing-duty statute in 1897, see T. D. 19321, 1 Synopsis of [Treasury] Decisions 696 (1898), and that the Department has uniformly maintained this position for over 80 years.
Moreover, an administrative "practice has peculiar weight when it involves a contemporaneous construction of a statute by the [persons] charged with the responsibility of setting its machinery in motion, of making the parts work efficiently and smoothly while they are yet untried and new." Norwegian Nitrogen Products Co. v. United States, 288 U.S. 294, 315 (1933); see, e. g., Power Reactor Co. v. Electricians, 367 U.S. 396, 408 (1961).
The question is thus whether, in light of the normal aids to statutory construction, the Department's interpretation is "sufficiently reasonable" to be accepted by a reviewing court. Train v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 421 U.S. 60,
The language of the 1897 statute evolved out of two earlier countervailing-duty provisions that had been applicable only to sugar imports. The first provision was enacted in 1890, apparently for the purpose of protecting domestic sugar refiners from unfair foreign competition; it provided for a fixed countervailing duty on refined sugar imported from countries that "pay, directly or indirectly, a [greater] bounty on the exportation of" refined sugar than on raw sugar. Tariff Act of 1890, ¶ 237, 26 Stat. 584. Although the congressional debates did not focus sharply on the meaning of the word "bounty," what evidence there is suggests that the term was not intended to encompass the nonexcessive remission of an indirect tax. Thus, one strong supporter of increased protection for American sugar producers heavily criticized the export "bounties" conferred by several European governments, and attached a concise description of "The Bounty Systems in Europe"; both the remarks and the description indicated that the "bounties" consisted of the amounts by which government payments exceeded the excise taxes that had been paid upon the beets from which the sugar was produced. See 21 Cong. Rec. 9529, 9532 (1890) (remarks of Sen. Gibson); id., at 9537 (description). According to the description, for example, French sugar manufacturers paid an "excise tax [of] $97.06 per gross ton[,] [b]ut upon the export of a ton of sugar . . . received back as a drawback $117.60, making a clear bounty of $20.54 per gross ton of sugar exported." Ibid.
The 1897 statute greatly expanded upon the coverage of the 1894 provision by making the countervailing-duty requirement applicable to all imported products. Tariff Act of 1897, § 5, 30 Stat. 205, quoted in n. 8, supra. There are strong indications, however, that Congress intended to retain the "net bounty" concept of the 1894 provision as the criterion for determining when a countervailing duty was to be imposed. Although the proviso in the 1894 law was deleted, the 1897 statute did provide for levying of duties equal to the "net amount" of any export bounty or grant. And the legislative
There is no question that the prior rule was carried forward in the version of the 1897 statute that originally passed the House. This version did not extend the countervailing-duty requirement to all imports. Instead, it merely modified the 1894 sugar provision so that the amount of the countervailing duty, rather than being fixed, would be "equal to [the export] bounty, or so much thereof as may be in excess of any tax collected by [the foreign] country upon [the] exported [sugar], or upon the beet or cane from which it was produced. . . ." See 30 Cong. Rec. 1634 (1897). The House Report unequivocally stated that the countervailing duty was intended to be "equivalent to the net export bounty paid by any country." H. R. Rep. No. 1, 55th Cong., 1st Sess., 4-5 (1897) (emphasis supplied).
The Senate deleted the House provision from the bill and replaced it with the more general provision that was eventually enacted into law. See 30 Cong. Rec. 1733 (1897) (striking House provision); id., at 2226 (adopting general provision); id., at 2705, 2750 (House agreement to Senate amendment). The debates in the Senate indicate, however, that—aside from extending the coverage of the House provision—the Senate did not intend to change its substance. Senator Allison, the sponsor of the Senate amendment, explained that the House provision was being "stricken from the bill," because "the same paragraph in substance [is] being inserted [in] section , making this countervailing duty apply to all articles instead of to [sugar] alone." Id., at 1635. See also id., at 1732 (remarks of Sen. White). Senator Allison twice remarked that the countervailing duty that he was proposing was an "imitation" of the one provided in the 1894 statute,
An additional indication of the Senate's intent can be found in the extended discussion of the effect that the statute would have with respect to German sugar exports. Time after time the amount of the German "bounty"—and, correspondingly, the amount of the countervailing duty that would be imposed under the statute—was stated to be 38¢ per 100 pounds of refined sugar, and 27¢ per 100 pounds of raw sugar. See, e. g., id., at 1650 (remarks of Sens Allison, Vest, and Caffery), 1658 (Sens. Allison and Jones), 1680 (Sen. Jones), 1719 (Sens. Allison and Lindsay), 1729 (Sen. Caffery), 2823-2824 (Sens. Aldrich and Jones). These figures were supplied by the Treasury Department itself, see id., at 1719 (remarks of Sen. Allison), 1722 (letter from Treasury Department to Sen. Caffery), and were utilized by both proponents and opponents of the measure. And yet it was frequently acknowledged during the debates that Germany exempted sugar exports from its domestic consumption tax of $2.16 per 100 pounds, an amount far in excess of the 38¢ and 27¢ figures. See, e. g., id., at 1646 (remarks of Sen. Vest), 1651 (Sen. Caffery), 1697 (same), 2205 (same). Had the Senators considered the mere remission of an indirect tax to be a "bounty," it seems unlikely that they would have stated that the German "bounties" were only 38¢ and 27¢ per 100 pounds.
Regardless of whether this legislative history absolutely compelled the Secretary to interpret "bounty or grant" so as not to encompass any nonexcessive remission of an indirect tax, there can be no doubt that such a construction was reasonable in light of the statutory purpose. Cf. Mourning v. Family Publications Service, Inc., 411 U.S. 356, 374 (1973). This purpose is relatively clear from the face of the statute and is confirmed by the congressional debates: The countervailing
In deciding in 1898 that a nonexcessive remission of indirect taxes did not result in the type of competitive advantage that Congress intended to counteract, the Department was clearly acting in accordance with the shared assumptions of the day as to the fairness and economic effect of that practice. The theory underlying the Department's position was that a foreign country's remission of indirect taxes did not constitute subsidization of that country's exports. Rather, such remission was viewed as a reasonable measure for avoiding double taxation of exports—once by the foreign country and once upon sale in this country. As explained in a recent study prepared by the Department for the Senate Committee on Finance:
This intuitively appealing principle regarding double taxation had been widely accepted both in this country and abroad for many years prior to enactment of the 1897 statute. See, e. g., Act of July 4, 1789, § 3, 1 Stat. 26 (remission of import duties upon exportation of products); 4 Works and Correspondence of D. Ricardo 216-217 (pamphlets and papers first published in 1822); A. Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book Four, ch. IV (1776).
The Secretary's interpretation of the countervailing-duty statute is as permissible today as it was in 1898. The statute has been re-enacted five times by Congress without any modification of the relevant language, see n. 8, supra, and, whether or not Congress can be said to have "acquiesced" in the administrative practice, it certainly has not acted to change it. At the same time, the Secretary's position has been incorporated into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT),
Aside from the contention, discussed in Part III, infra, that the Department's construction is inconsistent with this Court's decisions, petitioner's sole argument is that the Department's position is premised on false economic assumptions that should be rejected by the courts. In particular, petitioner points to "modern" economic theory suggesting that remission of indirect taxes may create an incentive to export in some circumstances, and to recent criticism of the GATT rules as favoring producers in countries that rely more heavily on indirect than on direct taxes.
Notwithstanding all of the foregoing considerations, this would be a very different case if, as petitioner contends, the Secretary's practice were contrary to this Court's decision in Downs v. United States, 187 U.S. 496 (1903).
The Russian sugar laws at issue in Downs were, as the Court noted, "very complicated." Id., at 502. Much of the Court's opinion was devoted to an exposition of these provisions, see id., at 502-512, but for present purposes only two features are relevant: (1) excise taxes imposed on sugar sales within Russia were remitted on exports; and (2) the exporter received, in addition, a certificate entitling its bearer to sell an amount of sugar in Russia, equal to the quantity exported, without paying the full excise tax otherwise due. This certificate was transferable and had a substantial market value related to the amount of tax forgiveness that it carried with it.
The issue as it came before this Court, therefore, was whether a nonexcessive remission of an indirect tax, together with the granting of an additional benefit represented by the value of the certificate, constituted a "bounty or grant." Since the amount of the bounty was not in question, neither the parties nor this Court focused carefully on the distinction between remission of the excise tax and conferral of the certificate. Petitioner argues, however, that certain broad language in the Court's opinion suggests that mere remission of a tax, even if nonexcessive, must be considered a bounty or grant within the meaning of the statute. Petitioner relies in particular on the following language:
This passage is inconsistent with both preceding and subsequent language which suggests that the Court understood the "bounty" to reside in the value of the certificates. At one point the Court stated that "[t]he amount [the exporter] receives for his export certificate [on the market], say, R. 1.25, is the exact amount of the bounty he receives upon exportation. . . ." Ibid.
Given this other language, we cannot read for its broadest implications the passage on which petitioner relies. In our view the passage does no more than establish the proposition
As the court below noted, "`[i]t is a maxim, not to be disregarded, that general expressions, in every opinion, are to be taken in connection with the case in which those expressions are used.'" 64 C. C. P. A., at 134, 562 F. 2d, at 1213, quoting Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 399 (1821). No one argued in Downs that a nonexcessive remission of taxes, standing alone, would have constituted a bounty on exportation, and indeed that issue was not presented on the facts of the case. It must also be remembered, of course, that the Court did affirm the Secretary's decision, and that decision rested on the conclusion that a bounty had been paid only to the extent that the remission exceeded the taxes otherwise due. In light of all these circumstances, the isolated statement in Downs relied upon by petitioner cannot be dispositive here.
The judgment of the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals is, accordingly,
"(1) Whenever any country, dependency, colony, province, or other political subdivision of government, person, partnership, association, cartel, or corporation, shall pay or bestow, directly or indirectly, any bounty or grant upon the manufacture or production or export of any article or merchandise manufactured or produced in such country, dependency, colony, province, or other political subdivision of government, then upon the importation of such article or merchandise into the United States, whether the same shall be imported directly from the country of production or otherwise, and whether such article or merchandise is imported in the same condition as when exported from the country of production or has been changed in condition by remanufacture or otherwise, there shall be levied and paid, in all such cases, in addition to any duties otherwise imposed, a duty equal to the net amount of such bounty or grant, however the same be paid or bestowed.
"(5) The Secretary shall from time to time ascertain and determine, or estimate, the net amount of each such bounty or grant, and shall declare the net amount so determined or estimated.
"(6) The Secretary shall make all regulations he deems necessary for the identification of articles and merchandise subject to duties under this section and for the assessment and collection of such duties. All determinations by the Secretary under this section, and all determinations by the Commission under subsection (b) (1) of this section (whether affirmative or negative) shall be published in the Federal Register." 19 U. S. C. § 1303 (a) (1976 ed.).
"That whenever any country, dependency, or colony shall pay or bestow, directly or indirectly, any bounty or grant upon the exportation of any article or merchandise from such country, dependency, or colony, and such article or merchandise is dutiable under the provisions of this Act, then upon the importation of any such article or merchandise into the United States, whether the same shall be imported directly from the country of production or otherwise, and whether such article or merchandise is imported in the same condition as when exported from the country of production or has been changed in condition by remanufacture or otherwise, there shall be levied and paid, in all such cases, in addition to the duties otherwise imposed by this Act, an additional duty equal to the net amount of such bounty or grant, however the same be paid or bestowed. The net amount of all such bounties or grants shall be from time to time ascertained, determined, and declared by the Secretary of the Treasury, who shall make all needful regulations for the identification of such articles and merchandise and for the assessment and collection of such additional duties."
The current version of § 303 represents the fifth re-enactment of the 1897 provision without any changes relevant here. Tariff Act of 1909, § 6, 36 Stat. 85; Tariff Act of 1913, § IV (E), 38 Stat. 193; Tariff Act of 1922, § 303, 42 Stat. 935; Tariff Act of 1930, § 303, 46 Stat. 687; Trade Act of 1974, § 331 (a), 88 Stat. 2049.
"the importer of sugar produced in a foreign country, the Government of which grants such direct or indirect bounties, may be relieved from this additional duty under such regulations as the Secretary of the Treasury may prescribe, in case said importer produces a certificate of said Government that no indirect bounty has been received upon said sugar in excess of the tax collected upon the beet or cane from which it was produced, and that no direct bounty has been or shall be paid . . . ." 28 Stat. 521 (emphasis added).
Petitioner argues that the Senate must have intended the term "bounty" to include nonexcessive remissions of indirect taxes, since Germany collected a tax on the output of sugar factories that was not remitted upon exportation and yet was not subtracted from the figures of 38¢ and 27¢ cited as the "bounties" paid by Germany. The sole evidence cited by petitioner to show that Germany in fact collected such a tax is an exhibit to the testimony of a single witness during hearings conducted by the House in 1896. See Tariff Hearings before the House Committee on Ways and Means, 54th Cong., 2d Sess., 617-618 (1896-1897). We have been unable to find any references to this tax anywhere in the Senate debates; moreover, to the extent that anyone contemplated the existence of German taxes that were not remitted upon exportation, the assumption appears to have been that they would be deducted from the 38¢ and 27¢ figures in determining the net amount of the bounty to be countervailed. The following exchange between Senators Allison and Vest is illustrative:
"MR. VEST. What . . . is the amount of export bounty, taking out taxes, etc., granted by Germany?
"Mr. ALLISON. . . . Of course it can not exceed three-eighths of a cent a pound—thirty-eight one-hundredths on refined sugar—nor can it exceed twenty-seven one-hundredths upon raw sugar. But it may be very much less." 30 Cong. Rec. 1721 (1897).
We note in any event that the amount of the tax cited by petitioner was less than 2¢ per 100 pounds, see Tariff Hearings, supra, at 617, whereas the consumption tax—which concededly was remitted upon exportation and yet not added to the figures of 38¢ and 27¢—was in the vicinity of $2.16 per 100 pounds.