RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The role of the customs broker in the international supply chain is evolving, and brokers have mixed feelings about the changes their industry will undergo.
Brokers will become more “professional” as they work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop requirements for continuing education in order to maintain their broker’s license.
CBP will also leverage the expertise of brokers in scrutinizing their importer clients in a public-private partnership to improve security in the international supply chain.
While customs brokers welcome the opportunity to become more relevant in international trade, they also recognize that they are assuming increased liability to ensure the documentation they file on behalf of importers is accurate and complete.
“Customs is re-engineering its processes, and they want us to do the same,” Alan Klestadt, customs counsel for the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, told the group’s annual conference Wednesday.
The evolving role of brokers is being codified in an effort by Customs known as Part 111 Role of the Broker Trade Transformation Initiative. Customs, with input from the NCBFAA and the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs (COAC), is rewriting the regulations governing the work of customs brokers.
The 111 rewrite, as it is known informally, took a major step forward in February when Customs and the industry agreed upon a preliminary framework for a program of continuing education requirements for customs brokers.
Elena Ryan, the agency’s acting director for trade facilitation, said the initial feeling is that brokers will be required to take 40 hours of continuing education over a three-year period. The program that is being worked out will go beyond classroom instruction to include Customs Webinars, trade symposiums, industry meetings such as the NCBFAA annual conference and other educational forums. CBP will decide which programs are accredited.
Ryan, who spoke to the NCBFAA conference by phone from Customs headquarters in Washington because Customs travel was cut back by the sequestration, said the framework developed in February must still be vetted by top Customs executives and will be open to a public comment period before being written in final form. “We still have a lot of work to do,” she said.
The evolving role of brokers will also involve a “known importer program” in which brokers will, in effect, vouch for the veracity of their importer clients, especially smaller importers that may be unknown to CBP.
Klestadt said a broker may be asked to flag an importer, indicating to Customs, “I know this importer. I’ve spent time with him.” NCBFAA will develop a questionnaire that brokers can use to develop basic information on their clients, and the group will ask Customs to sign off on it.
While this expanded role for brokers contains some risk, it is in line with the government agency’s efforts in recent years to leverage brokers in a layered approach to securing the international supply chain, Klestadt said.