Customs Inspections for Low Risk Importer Might Be Adjusted


 By Toby Gooley

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is moving forward with three trade facilitation initiatives. Two will make international trade processes more efficient, and one will expand the role customs brokers play in trade security.

In a presentation at the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) 10th Annual Northeast Cargo Symposium held earlier this month in Foxborough, Mass., Stephen Hilsen, CBP’s director of trade policy and agreements, outlined the initiatives’ objectives. Implementation details are being worked out in consultation with the trade community, Hilsen said.

The first initiative, “simplified processes,” would streamline the entry submission and cargo release processes for low-risk importers. CBP is looking at reducing the number of data elements required for the entry summary—the foundation of all customs clearance activities—from 27 down to 13 to 16. One way to do that, Hilsen said, might be to stop requiring importers to provide transportation information that CBP already receives from carriers. That would allow importers to file entry summaries earlier since they would no longer have to wait for carriers to supply the data. Hilsen also noted that many of the elements would be the same as those on the Importer Security Filing (ISF) and that CBP may someday be able to collect data once and apply it for both purposes.

CBP also is considering linking the now-separate filing of entry summaries and payment of duties, taxes, and fees, and separating those transactions from the cargo release process. In addition, rather than continually file formal entries as cargo arrives, approved low-risk importers would be allowed to summarize all entries for a single “business month” on one document and then amend the entries and file final details and financial information for those entries at a later time. CBP is seeking importers and customs brokers to test the concept through a pilot involving air freight.

The second initiative, CBP’s “Centers for Excellence and Expertise,” is ready to move from the pilot to the permanent stage. The centers bring together customs personnel who specialize in a specific industry to process entries, protests, post-entry reviews, and other transactions for that industry, rather than having agents at every port of entry process them. (Revenue collection will remain at the ports of entry.) By consolidating industry knowledge and expertise, CBP hopes to ensure the uniform application of procedures and policies in economically important industries.

Currently, CBP runs two such centers: one in Long Beach for the electronics and computer industry and one in New York for pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. The agency plans to increase that number to nine.

The third initiative involves expanding customs brokers’ involvement in cargo security, including leveraging their relationships with customers to help small and mid-sized companies improve security and trade compliance. A working group comprising representatives of CBP and the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) has been examining those proposals as well as such issues as regulations and penalties governing brokers, continuing education, and whether brokers could play a role in pre-certifying their customers for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).

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