National entry processing remains one of the most controversial aspects in the proposed Customs Modernization Act.
The new system of processing, which lets importers and brokers file entry papers where they are located, even if the goods are brought into the country at another site, has customs brokers worried."There's a lot of components in it and testing has to be done," said Arthur L. Litman, president of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America Inc.
While supportive of many aspects of the proposed legislation, which did not reach the congressional floor last year, Mr. Litman said the association wants to ensure that "the dream doesn't become a nightmare."
Mr. Litman spoke at a panel session on the Customs Modernization Act during the association's annual meeting here.
Customs and private industry have been developing the measure for the past few years. It codifies and gives statutory authority for the many automated programs the U.S. Customs Service has introduced over the past decade. The act also subjects the trade community to greater penalties and more record-keeping responsibilities.
A proposal developed by the Joint Industry Group, a coalition of trade associations and companies, mandates that national entry processing be instituted within a year from congressional approval. The proposal developed by Customs removes the law's current language prohibiting national entry processing, but does not mandate its use within a specific time period.
The joint industry bill does not have the penalties and record-keeping provisions that are in the bill proposed by Customs, Cindy Thomas, the association's Washington representative, said.
Samuel H. Banks, assistant commissioner of commercial operations for Customs, said many U.S. businesses want to be able to release cargo at multiple sites around the country.
"Businesses question why a test is necessary," Mr. Banks told the audience. "Brokers have horror stories of it (national entry processing) putting people out of business. But the system will be a long time coming and a very gradual process."
Mr. Banks said he didn't expect any legislation to pass Congress for another year and Customs would then take another 12 to 18 months to write the regulations. A further 12 to 18 months would be needed to institute the system, he added.
Harvey A. Isaacs, the association's general counsel, said brokers are also concerned that the process will leave importers without an actual representative at the entry site.
"There's the perception that NEP could result in the deterioration of the districts," Mr. Isaacs added. "That there will be no one to answer questions. No one to solve problems."
Ms. Thomas said the Joint Industry Group bill should be introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee within the next week or two. The bill would be
refered to the Trade Subcommittee.
The association is hoping the bill will move through Congress, she said. ''We'd like to see a customs modernization bill passed this year. But we're insisting that it make sense," she said. "We have a long road ahead of us."