With dozens of federal agencies having some degree of involvement in the cargo clearance process, importers are crying out for a single government portal at the border.
Customs and Border Protection, the lead government agency at the border, agrees that importers have a legitimate gripe when it comes to the cargo clearance delays and the economic burden they face from redundant or conflicting regulations.
“If CBP does not support a strong economy, we’re not doing our job,” Brenda Brockman Smith, executive director, trade policy and programs, told the 12th annual Trans-Pacific Maritime Conference Monday in Long Beach.
Customs actually began to develop a “single window” for import documentation in the mid-1990s. The International Trade Data System is part of the umbrella automation effort known as the Automated Commercial Environment. Like ACE, however, development of the ITDS has been delayed by inadequate funding, politics and the terrorist attacks of September 11.
George J. Weise, customs commissioner from 1993 to 1997, said Congress contributed to the delays in developing ACE and ITDS when it took the program out of Customs’ hands in 2001 and put it out to bid in the private sector. Customs staff was proud of the predecessor automation effort it created, the Automated Commercial System, which Customs still uses to some degree today. Customs staff soon labeled ACE an information technology project and disengaged from its development, Weise said.
Customs is working on various initiatives designed to provide more uniformity in the filing and processing of import documentation. Smith cited the nine Centers of Excellence and Expertise the agency plans to develop. Each center will expand Customs expertise by focusing on a specific commodity. Smith said centers in Los Angeles and New York are already providing more uniform treatment of electronics and pharmaceutical imports.
Other agencies are building upon programs developed by Customs to provide uniformity in the cargo clearance process and to expedite clearance of low-risk shipments, said Domenic Veneziano, director of the division of import operations and policy at the Food and Drug Administration. For example, the FDA may consider an importer certified under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism to be a trusted partner.
While participation in programs such as C-TPAT requires an investment of time and resources, the benefits in terms of expedited cargo clearance are worth the effort, said Ted Sherman, director of global trade services at Target Corp.
However, Congress continues to make the job of the agencies more difficult by thrusting upon them additional security requirements, said Su Ross, an attorney with the Los Angeles firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp.
The laws often come with no funding for the agencies, and Congress may have only the vaguest idea of the impact the requirements will have on the competitiveness of U.S. companies, she said. The burdens placed upon small and midsize companies can be heavy. “If you’re a smaller company, you’re stuck,” Ross said.