Customs will roll back 'shipper' definition

Customs will roll back 'shipper' definition

WASHINGTON -- Customs and Border Protection has agreed to accept the traditional definition of "shipper" on bills of lading, and will launch a voluntary program to acquire more detailed information about foreign manufacturers and suppliers.

Officials met earlier this week with representatives of four trade groups that had petitioned the agency about the shipper question in January. Traditionally the shipper is the party that tenders cargo to a carrier, and that will be the definition that Customs has agreed to continue to use.

When Customs published final rules for new advance electronic reporting of cargo data last December, it defined "shipper" as the foreign vendor that originates the cargo. That definition would not allow forwarders, non-vessel-operating common carriers, consolidators or other third parties to identify themselves as the shipper on the bill of lading.

The National Industrial Transportation League, Retail Industry Leaders Association, World Shipping Council and National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America petitioned Customs to reconsider the rule. Customs agreed in principle, although it has not put the change in writing.

At the same time, Customs will launch a voluntary program to encourage importers to file entry data within 24 hours of a shipment's arrival. Entry data includes more information on foreign suppliers that Customs would like to use for anti-terrorism screening.

Details of the reporting program have not been worked out, but trade officials said that Customs will provide incentives for entry data in advance. Members of the Customs-Trade Partnerships Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, for example, could have points added to their risk profiles, which means their shipments would be selected less frequently for inspection by Customs' Automated Targeting System.

Trade officials who met with Customs said the voluntary proposal appeared workable, although not all importers may be able to use it. Customs also will establish a working group with the trade to see if there is any regulatory changes that could be made to acquire the foreign manufacturer data.