James L. Sawyer



James Sawyer counsels clients on critical import compliance issues and duty-savings opportunities, balancing business realities with effective internal control processes to meet importers’ legal obligations. He advises in all areas of U.S. import law and regulation, including tariff classification, valuation, origin determination and marking, free trade agreements and duty preference programs, and enforcement. James is the leader of Faegre Drinker's Chicago team.

Import Compliance Counsel

James frequently counsels clients on strategic sourcing and import compliance issues and has obtained beneficial administrative rulings and favorable protest determinations saving clients millions of dollars in duties. He partners with importers of all sizes and in all industries to develop comprehensive import compliance programs, collaborating with them to establish internal processes that build the essential bridges of communication across impacted functional areas.

James works with clients to identify and evaluate opportunities under all available duty preference programs and accompanying compliance obligations, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and all other bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements. He routinely assists clients in evaluating and implementing duty savings opportunities under the Generalized System of Preferences; African Growth and Opportunity Act; Agreement on Trade in Pharmaceutical Products; and the variety of Chapter 98 and 99 duty savings programs, including U.S. Goods Returned, Products Returned from Repair and Alteration, Prototype Provision, Nairobi Protocol and other available duty saving strategies.

He closely collaborates with clients to manage import valuation compliance, working with internal finance, accounting, legal and trade compliance teams to support proper valuation of imported goods and post-importation reporting requirements under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Reconciliation Prototype program. Working with in-house clients and sourcing teams, James helps clients incorporate trade compliance protections within supply and distribution agreements, and assists with structuring supply chain relationships to mitigate duty liability.

Risk Mitigation, Investigations and Enforcement

Clients faced with enforcement proceedings, investigations, Focused Assessment audits and other verification proceedings conducted by CBP have an ally in James. He routinely assists clients in crafting responses to formal CBP Requests for Information and Notices of Action, which are often precursors to more aggressive CBP enforcement proceedings.

James works with clients to complete internal risk assessments, manage identified import compliance risks and mitigate civil penalty exposure by preparing and filing voluntary disclosures and developing and implementing corrective actions. With the implementation of recent U.S. trade policy initiatives, including Section 301 retaliatory duties against China and Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, James has partnered with clients to develop effective mitigation strategies via active participation in available exclusion processes, tariff engineering opportunities, and country of origin evaluation and sourcing strategies. He frequently works with clients on proactive mechanisms to anticipate and reduce duty liability and mitigate import compliance risks.

James also counsels on the import valuation implications of transfer pricing agreements, contract and toll manufacturing agreements, “first sale” valuation practices, buying agency contracts, and licensing and royalty agreements to identify duty savings opportunities and to avoid potential pitfalls. He assists clients in identifying and capturing required elements to declared value and prepares annual cost submissions for imports from Mexican maquiladora operations imported under a computed value method of appraisement.

He frequently works with clients to complete tariff classification reviews and challenges, both administratively and at the U.S. Court of International Trade, seeking opportunities to mitigate duty liability and successfully challenge unreasonable agency decisions. James also counsels clients on competing origin determinations and country of origin marking rules, including those enforced by CBP, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) and state “Made in USA” requirements, and other import jurisdictions, in addition to relevant origin determination rules under the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and the Buy American Act (BAA).


Bar Admissions


Court Admissions

U.S. Court of International Trade
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois


Chicago-Kent College of Law
J.D. with honors

Union College
B.A. in East Asian Studies, with departmental honors

Insights & Events

Leadership & Community

Professional Associations

  • Chicago Bar Association
  • International Compliance Professionals Association (ICPA)
  • American Association of Exporters and Importers (AAEI)
  • Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT)

Firm Leadership

  • Office Leader, Chicago
  • Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP— Past Chair, Customs and International Trade Team; Regional Partner in Charge, Chicago Office


  • Chambers Global — International Trade: Customs, Band 4, 2023
  • Chambers USA — Nationwide, International Trade: Customs, 2022-23
Awards Methodology
No aspect of these recognitions has been approved by the highest court of any state.
The Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP website uses cookies to make your browsing experience as useful as possible. In order to have the full site experience, keep cookies enabled on your web browser. By browsing our site with cookies enabled, you are agreeing to their use. Review Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP's cookies information for more details.