LONG BEACH, Calif. — Government regulatory agencies are seeking the support of importers in their attempts to secure the nation’s borders while at the same time facilitating the clearance of legitimate cargo.
“This is a time of opportunity to participate in the process,” Lynette Keffer, CEO of J&K Fresh, told the Cool Cargoes segment of the JOC’s 13th annual TPM Conference in Long Beach Wednesday.
Importers of food products and perishable commodities must walk a regulatory gauntlet established by agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Some regulations are designed primarily to guarantee food quality, while the Bioterrorism Act and similar statutes are geared toward national security.
With consumer health and safety at stake, cargo inspections are often required. Inspections can cost importers hundreds of dollars, and delays in the clearance of shipments can be even more costly if they lead to spoilage, shorter shelf life or missed deadlines for food products consumed at holiday events.
“Delays are very costly to produce importers,” Keffer said.
However, government inspectors are generally sensitive to the needs of importers of perishable commodities, and the agencies want importers and customs brokers to work with them as trusted partners to prevent tainted or unsafe products from entering the national food chain.
The agencies have therefore established a number of programs that offer the promise of reduced inspections, or promotion to the head of the line when inspections are required. Participation in the programs requires that a company devote staff time and resources to secure their international supply chains, but the programs have enough of a track record to show that the benefits compensate for the costs the companies incur, Keffer said.
The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism was developed after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the effectiveness of the program is demonstrated by the fact that about 10,000 companies have been certified as C-TPAT participants. Keffer said Customs is doing its best to ensure that C-TPAT members experience fewer inspections than non-C-TPAT participants.
USDA inspections are a way of life for food importers. In order to perform an increased number of inspections without delaying clearance of perishable shipments, the government has reduced the number of inspections stations in Southern California to three from more than a dozen. Centralized examination stations efficiently process the containers, but the price of a CES exam has increased fourfold to $600, Keffer said.
Importers can help their own cause by complying with advance filing and prior notice requirements. The 10+2 importer security filing, for example, provides sufficient information on the country of origin, importer, consignee and others in the supply chain to help Customs clear low-risk shipments while focusing on those that raise red flags.
Importers, especially those that are subject to multiple-agency regulations, face the added burden of complying with sometimes conflicting rules and timelines.
Customs is attempting to provide more uniformity throughout the government by establishing product-specific Centers of Excellence and Expertise. The agency intends to establish a center for agricultural products in Florida. It would be a virtual office so that importers everywhere can draw upon the expertise provided by both the public and private sectors.
“This is exciting. CBP is meeting with the trade. They want to learn about our business,” Keffer said. This is a time for importers of perishable commodities to offer their expertise to Customs so the agency can develop procedures that are effective while at the same time helpful in facilitating trade, she said.