The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) held its 2009 Trade Symposium was from December 8 -10, 2009 in Washington D.C. The symposium, titled "A Decade of Progress through Partnership," marked the 10th anniversary of this event.
The symposium was organized in a workshop setting and also included a number of lectures and presentations. Some of the most important topics included Importer Security Filing (ISF), shared border issues between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, Customs' intellectual property rights (IPR) policy, and Customs' rulings process.
Regarding the ISF process, CBP reported that from January 2009 through December 2009 it received 3.65 million filings from more than 100,000 ISF importers. CBP reminded that it will begin enforcing ISF requirements beginning January 26, 2010. It was clear from the discussions that Customs has no intention of delaying the enforcement of mandatory ISF filing past the intended enforcement date. However, CBP plans to adopt, at least initially, an informed compliance approach, which, at first, will include use of the least punitive measures.
At the beginning of the ISF enforcement period, Customs expects to use Do Not Load Directives only in the most serious cases. Customs is most interested in receiving the necessary ISF data rather than holding back the cargo or issuing monetary penalties, which range from $5,000 for ISF transmission violations and are capped at $10,000 per filing. The importers must also consider that the cost of Customs withholding cargo is likely to exceed the penalty of $5,000 or $10,000.
The ISF penalty process will be, for now, centralized at the Customs' Headquarters (HQ) level. Individual ports will initiate the penalty proceedings but the review and handling of the violation will be forwarded to Customs HQ.
On the border issues, a panel of Customs officials from the U.S., Mexico and Canada stressed the importance of harmonizing countries' customs processes, including requirements for advance data submission otherwise known as 10+2. The U.S. and Canada continue to work on harmonizing partnership programs like C-TPAT. Mexico will be initiating its own Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program in 2010.
Overall, the discussions stressed the importance of developing businesses' risk management programs including integration of internal controls related to trade and those involving key business and financial operations.
Regarding Customs' IPR policy, CBP issued over 1,000 fine notices totaling $94 million against importers attempting to import counterfeit merchandise. Of that amount, CBP was able to collect only $2 million from the violators. Therese Randazzo, Customs' IPR Policy and Programs Division Director, indicated that the U.S. Attorney Office is hesitant to bring cases against violators since adding a fine in addition to the seizure and forfeiture of goods may be considered an excessive fine under U.S. law.
With respect to the Customs Rulings process, Customs reminded importers to submit Ruling Requests via CBP's new e-Rulings system (except the Ruling Requests must be submitted by paper if a physical sample is submitted to CBP). Advance Ruling Requests still remain the best way of predicting proper import requirements, including proper classification and valuation.
Customs' failure to timely process ruling requests has been a constant complaint among the practitioners. Headquarters rulings should be issued in 90 days, while New York rulings should be issued in 30 days. While the average ruling processing time at New York port is 22 days, there still remains a significant backlog of the requests.