Labuda on trade risks

Compliance: what are the trade risks (part 1)

by Janet.Labuda@FormerFedsGroup.Com

Over the last few weeks, I have written a series of short articles discussing the need for developing a compliance-based approach to transacting international trade. This will help to prepare your organization to effectively deal with the risks inherent in importing.

What are these risks that continue to be the focus of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)? There are various operational policies and programs that give insight into the agency’s concerns. The most important is the identification of Priority Trade Issues (PTIs). Currently, CBP considers the agency’s trade enforcement priorities to be:

Antidumping and Countervailing Duty case administration and enforcement;

Import Safety;

Intellectual Property Rights protection;

Revenue;

Textiles; and

Trade Agreements.

In CBP’s own words “Priority Trade Issues (PTIs) represent high-risk areas that can cause significant revenue loss, harm the U.S. economy, or threaten the health and safety of the American people. They drive risk-informed investment of CBP resources and enforcement and facilitation efforts, including the selection of audit candidates, special enforcement operations, outreach, and regulatory initiatives.”

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Trade compliance–why bother?

by Janet Labuda

I worked in Customs for over thirty years and met regularly with importers to discuss trade risk, compliance, and enforcement. Often, companies would express their concerns about the cost of compliance–the proverbial cost benefit analysis. If money is spent to create a compliance department, what will the benefits be? Do the risks of possibly getting caught by Customs outweigh the investment in corporate trade compliance? How can there be an effective response to risk without the associated high costs?

Just as with most things, there are rules that govern our behavior. When we drive to work there are lane markings on major thoroughfares, and traffic light systems, and posted speed limits to guide us in an orderly fashion. The same can be said for international trade rules. They are meant to make order out of potential chaos. No person or company can operate successfully in an atmosphere of chaos. Business seeks out predictability, and stability. The rules and regulations governing trade provide a needed stable structure that can help companies weather shifts in the global economy or changes to the legal or regulatory framework.

More importantly, the rules help to level the playing field, and enhance and improve the competitive business dynamic. When companies fail to operate using these rules the underpinnings of trade policy collapse. Trade preference program become endangered, national economies become threatened, sourcing models get upended, business relationships are uprooted.

In addition, companies can get swept up in enforcement actions. Customs assesses risk using somewhat broad parameters. It could be driven by product, country of origin, manufacturer, preferential trade program usage, or combinations of these elements. There are also those instances when very specific information reaches the agency.

The better question to ask is what price is paid if my company does not invest in a culture of compliance? Getting enmeshed in Customs or other regulatory enforcement actions can tarnish your brand, lead to expensive law suits and penalty actions, and divert your resources away from your corporate mission and goals.

Ensuring a strong compliance structure in your organization ensures greater facilitation of product entering the commerce which supports just in time inventory practices. Costs are reduced for both government and business by focusing limited resources to enhancing productivity. A compliance driven operation is a win-win.

Labuda on The Role of Customs in National Economic Growth

The Role of Customs in National Economic Growth

By Janet Labuda**

Traditionally, Customs Services have  been tasked with the collection and protection of revenues generated from the importation of goods into their respective countries. Declared valuation of the imported goods is the basis for the collection of duties and value added tax for the national budgets. However, as the global economy is gravitating toward various free trade and duty-free preference partnerships and regional economic integration the traditional role of Customs is evolving.

Most Customs Services will readily admit that the growth of import trade and resulting complexities are often overwhelming for current personnel numbers, training, and abilities. The World Customs Organization has advocated the use of various risk management programs to identify the highest risk transactions, and therefore direct limited resources to addressing only these risks, while absorbing lower risk situations. Various countries have also established trusted partnerships with members of the supply chain using the business community as a force multiplier for compliance. Modern Customs Services must be on the leading edge of building a culture of compliance within the global trade community.

The international trade community has embraced the concept of just in time inventory procedures and Customs must embrace a just in time response to the needs of business. The lack of timeliness in regulatory decisions, and addressing legal issues, e.g., protests, the inability to create clear and concise regulations to elucidate new legal requirements, and failure to understand the business of business has a detrimental effect on corporate prosperity and subsequently a nation’s economic growth. Customs must see itself as an economic growth engine and compliance partnerships need to be expanded to include economic growth partnerships.

Generally, companies that reach out to Customs are seeking to enhance their compliance footprint, not to engage in questionable trade practices. There is no doubt that there are those in the trade community who engage in undervaluation, circumvention of anti-dumping duties, the introduction of goods that violate intellectual property rights, and in introducing products that adversely affect the health and safety of consumers. In these situations, Customs should take swift and effective enforcement action. Violations such as these also have a dampening effect on economic growth. However, for those companies seeking to be compliant players in the global economy, Customs Services need to step up and engage in collaborative solutions and ways forward.

Customs has a duty to remove unnecessary roadblocks affecting international trade transactions. Creating policies that are the antithesis of global economic partnerships is unacceptable. Customs Services should recognize their role in national economic growth by taking steps to ensure that Customs officials are trained in the complexities of international trade and the legal requirements necessary for a seamless facilitation of legitimate trade. Customs needs to develop programs that enable the highest level of integrity among Customs human resources and to develop strong risk management programs that address serious violations, rather than just seeking to pluck low hanging fruit which have little risk to compliance or which impede the flow of compliant trade. Of course, it is critical to ensure that adequate resources are in place to quickly address requests from the trade community regarding legal advice and rulings. Mutually developed compliance programs must take into account business needs, and provide quick and effective communication with the trade community. Customs must guarantee consistent and uniform treatment of issues across various ports and government agency offices to ensure predictability.

For import/expert issues, Janet can be contacted at Vandegrift Inc.  Janet can also be contacted at FormerFedsGroup.