The border between Mexico and the United States has become a bit more transparent for Mattel Inc. as the company has implemented an electronic invoice system aimed at speeding shipments through customs.
For the past four weeks, the toy manufacturer has been feeding shipping information directly into a U.S. Customs database, easing the clearance process for Mattel truckers as they cross the border at Laredo, Texas."The beauty of it is we don't have paper that is being moved around and all of the problems associated with that paper," said Fermin Cuza, vice president of international trade and government affairs for Mattel in El Segundo, Calif.
"We're still stuck with assembling the data but it's only produced by the plant in Mexico. And from that point on, it's only touched once," he said.
The Automated Invoice Interface system is part of U.S. Customs' modernization drive toward a paperless environment in an era of increasing trade activity. The agency recently received congressional approval to update its procedures and plans to streamline even more of its activities.
"This is very important to Customs," said Pam Previte, an agency spokeswoman in Houston.
"With the increase we see in trade, and the anticipated increases with Nafta . . . the new global marketplace and the resulting increased trade we feel is inevitable as a result of those things, this type of paperless trade is very crucial for us," she said.
For Mattel's part, the electronic invoice program offers an opportunity to save money through increased efficiency, as well as a chance to get to the head of the line in Customs' efforts to create an electronic infrastructure on the Mexico-U.S. border.
Essentially, the system allows the manufacturer to take invoice and shipping data, enter them into a computer at Mattel's plant in Monterrey, Mexico, and transmit the information to the main office in El Segundo.
The main computer is then checked for invoice and shipping data, which are screened for errors before being downloaded into an automated import system. Once in the import system, the information is checked again and verified.
The invoice, entry and entry summary data is then transmitted to Customs, which usually receives the information 24 hours in advance and can check the data before the truck arrives at the border.
In Laredo, the driver presents a copy of the truck manifest to customs officials who check a bar-coded entry number. The number is run through the computer, where information on the specific shipment has already been stored.