Smashing Pumpkins

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By the United States Council for International Business

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Tour de France bicycle racers, NBC Sports – even the rock band Smashing Pumpkins: all have used an ATA Carnet when shipping valuable equipment overseas. And so has Bob Carbo, who, as it happens, knows a thing or two about smashing pumpkins himself.

Carbo used a Carnet, a document that speeds equipment and other goods through customs, when he shipped his pumpkin catapult to a “punkin chunkin” contest in Belgium last summer. The organizers wanted an American team, and Carbo accepted the invitation because it was his first opportunity to show off his skills outside the United States.

Punkin chunkers, as they call themselves, use catapults to shoot pumpkins high and far, much as medieval armies built them as weapons for hurling projectiles over the walls of enemy forts and castles. Carbo started competing 15 years ago after reading a newspaper announcement about a punkin chunkin contest. He went, he saw, and he was hooked.

He built his own catapult, using wood, steel and rope, modeled after an ancient Roman type that he discovered during his research. “It was very powerful, especially for its size, and somewhat portable,” Carbo explained. The 11-foot high catapult rests on a trailer that Carbo tows with his pick-up truck.

The highlight of the year for pumpkin hurlers is the World Punkin Chunkin Championship, held in Delaware each fall. Last year it drew 110 teams. Carbo placed third, with a personal best of 2,196 feet.

But getting the 3-ton machine to Europe presented a different kind of challenge. “I had never shipped anything like this before, so it was all new,” said Carbo, whose smart business decisions show that he’s definitely not out of his gourd. He found a freight forwarder called Ship Overseas that booked Onager on a ship sailing from Baltimore to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Jack Friedman, president of Ship Overseas, suggested that he look into getting a Carnet. “I thought this was a good idea because it might help to get through Customs. We thought they might raise some questions because the catapult’s a medieval weapon,” Carbo laughed. “The other big thing was that we didn’t have to pay any taxes or duties.”

Carnets are merchandise passports that enable users to avoid extensive customs procedures, payment of duties and value-added taxes for the temporary importation of various types of goods. They normally cover products such as commercial samples, professional equipment, and goods for trade shows and exhibitions. They are also used for special items, such as precious works of art displayed in museum exhibitions, race horses, and satellites.

By using a Carnet, Carbo was able to avoid Belgium’s 10 percent customs duty and 19 percent value-added tax.

The tournament was held Sept. 5 in a small Belgian town called Bikschote. “They call it the European Punkin Chunkin Championship, but we were the only one of the 13 teams not from Belgium,” he said. Carbo doesn’t have any plans for competing in other events outside the U.S., but says “I’d love to do it again. Maybe some other country will invite us.” And if it does, he plans to use a Carnet to help him get there.

“An international competition for catapulting pumpkins. Who’d a thunk it?” quipped Cynthia Duncan, who heads USCIB’s Carnet service. USCIB administers the carnet program in the United States in partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Customs Organization. The service is heading for a record year, and is planning to welcome Mexico into the system very soon. Learn more about Carnets at Carbo’s web site is For information about this year’s World Punkin Chunkin Championship, go to It even has a countdown clock (down to the second) to the start of competition on November 2.

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2 Responses to Smashing Pumpkins

  1. Clara says:

    Temporary exports are an AES exeption?

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