OTTAWA - Canadian forwarders are protesting U.S. Customs' new 24-hour cargo manifest rule, saying it will hinder legitimate shipments while disclosing confidential cargo information.
The Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) in a letter to Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, Foreign Affairs Minister William Graham and International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew asked the government to intervene with the U.S. on their behalf. The letter was posted on CIFFA's Web page Wednesday.
The rule, in effect now but with a grace period through Feb. 2, requires that all cargo on a U.S.-bound ship must be reported to U.S. Customs 24 hours prior to loading at a foreign port, "including freight remaining on board (FROB)," the forwarders noted.
The group points out that since most container ships sail on to U.S. ports after calling at Canadian ports, Canadian overseas export cargo on these ships falls under the FROB provisions of the 24-hour rule.
The forwarders also raised competitive concerns, since by law U.S. Customs discloses manifest information which is compiled and marketed by private trade intelligence services, such as Port Import and Export Reporting Service (PIERS). PIERS is a unit of Commonwealth Business Media, the parent of The Journal of Commerce Online.
Conceding that the U.S. "has a right to know what is on board a ship calling at its ports," the group insisted that third-country trade information should not "be available to private interests through public disclosure in the United States" and that there should be an exemption for Canadian cargo loaded at Canadian ports and transiting U.S. ports.
The forwarders noted that the same cargo moving by truck or rail across the border to be loaded at a U.S. port for shipment abroad is exempted from the rule, and no shipper, consignee or final destination information required. Without an exemption, Canadian exporters overseas would have to select ships that do not call at U.S. ports or send their cargo overland to U.S. ports for loading for shipment abroad.
"This rule essentially levels the playing field. Carrier information has been in the public domain and has not caused harm to the trade," said Bill Ralph, president of PIERS and senior vice president of Commonwealth Business Media. "Regulations protecting importers' business confidentiality have been in place for more than 20 years, and they work."
The group also cited the rule's stiff fines for incorrect or delayed information: US$5,000 for a first offense, and $10,000 thereafter, against the carrier or forwarders. But the fines, CIFFA points out, are "not for any goods consigned to the United States but for goods merely on board a ship that is docked at a U.S. port."
Canadian forwarders are also required to post a US$50,000 bond with U.S. Customs.