With Frederico Zuniga, President, NCBFAA

With Frederico Zuniga, President, NCBFAA

Frederico "Kiko" Zuniga is expected to begin his second two-year term as president of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America when the group meets this week for its annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Zuniga and his brother Fernando represent the third generation to manage F. Zuniga Inc., the family's customs brokerage and warehouse-distribution business in Laredo, Texas.

Q. How has the NCBFAA membership been affected by the trend to fewer, larger brokerages, and mergers of members with companies such as UPS and FedEx?

A. We've struggled to keep the membership growing, but the essence of the NCBFAA hasn't changed. Whether you're a large broker, a small broker or a medium-sized broker, the problems of international trade are consistent. Our membership has actually grown this year. We have increased the scope of our membership by adding an NVOCC category. We saw that issues such as the 24-hour rule were going to affect a lot of people that we felt didn't have proper representation. Some of our members already had an NVOCC as another part of their businesses.

Q. Should the NCBFAA be a trade organization or a professional organization?

A. There's been a big debate within our association - should we stay as a trade association of member companies, or should we be a professional organization of licensed individuals? I think there's a need for both. I think the NCBFAA will be a hybrid. Within the organization of companies we will have the educational institute for individual brokers. In today's environment of security and compliance, we need to educate brokers about the changes that are happening on a daily basis.

Q. What kind of response have you had to the educational institute?

A. We've had a very good response. Every month we do a teleconference seminar, and we have been increasing the number of people who are taking these classes. Our ultimate goal is to be an accrediting body for the field of logistics and trade.

Q. You have all these different specialties in the NCBFAA: brokers, forwarders, NVOs. Is there going to come a day when the NCBFAA won't be able to meet everyone's needs?

A. No. All of these people are dealing with international trade. That commonality will keep people together in some form or fashion. The NCBFAA is run by a large group of very dedicated and well-versed people who are willing to put in countless hours. That's the strength of the organization.

Q. Duty rates and quotas are trending to zero. What will customs brokers do in the future?

A. Security will be a big issue. Already businesses face penalties for noncompliance. You'll always need someone to navigate the waters of international trade. You might be reducing tariff barriers, but there are other barriers going up.

Q. Will you still call them customs brokers?

A. Customs broker is a broad term. We've never professed to be duty collectors. We were the front end of the Customs Service, now that means getting information for risk assessment. I would say 90 percent of the transmissions that Customs screens for security come through a customs broker first. We are taking a lot of workload off the government. That's not going to go away very soon.

Q. How do you tell somebody about the customs broker business? How are you going to get people to fill the jobs in the future?

A. Our biggest fault is that we've made clearing goods so simple, that people don't realize what our function is. We make the job as easy as possible. That's the nature of our job. The word broker is tacked on to so many things - real estate brokers, stockbrokers. People understand that a real estate broker deals with real estate. Maybe we need to call it "international trade broker," and people would understand that term better.

Q. What do you see as the issues in the next 12 months?

A. FDA implementation is going to be a big thing on our radar. The Trade Act of 2002, where you have notification of merchandise at land borders. Now you're having the air cargo and land borders that will be phased in. The Automated Commercial Environ-ment, where you're going to have monthly periodic payments being introduced. It's finally coming to fruition, but there are things there that people are going to need to get their arms around and embrace.