Facilitation of trade is one of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) mandates, and they are developing methodologies to accomplish this.  Evidence to this is the establishment of Centers of Excellence and Expertise.

CBP intends for the Centers to bring trade expertise for a single industry to a specific strategic location.  They are staffing these locations with numerous trade positions using account management principles and operational skills to answer questions, provide information, and develop comprehensive trade facilitation strategies to address uniformity and compliance concerns.  This process will result in the ports of entry being able to more effectively focus resources on high-risk shipments and importers that may pose a danger to U.S. border security, harm the health and safety of consumers, or violate U.S. trade laws and intellectual property rights critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness.

At present there are ten Centers:

Miami:  agriculture & prepared Products San Francisco: apparel, footwear and textiles Detroit: automotive and aerospace Chicago: base metals Atlanta: consumer products and mass merchandising Los Angeles: electronics Buffalo: industrial and manufacturing materials Laredo: machinery Houston: petroleum, natural gas and minerals New York: pharmaceuticals, health and chemicals

The Centers are industry focused, but account based.  Currently CBP is requesting volunteer importers to work with the Centers that best fit their business.  Once an applicant has been accepted that Center will perform certain entry and post summary functions for their accounts.  At present, revenue related functions remain with the ports of entry, but will transition over time until they rest entirely within the Centers.  Of course in order to accomplish this, remote processing and automated paperless systems are necessary.

Filers will continue to assist their clients in meeting import and export requirements.  For post-entry activities where they would normally interact with the port, filers will now interact with the appropriate Center on behalf of their participating account.

This will include Entry types 01, 04, 06, 08, 11, 23 and 24, as well as AD/CVD entries as well as post-summary processes to include post-summary adjustments, internal advice requests, and protests.  Protests currently handled by the Office of International Trade/Regulations & Rulings, such as requests for further reviews, and requests to void the denial of the protests, will remain with Regulations & Rulings.

Enforcement actions will continue to be handled by the ports, such as notices of detention or seizure, as well as issuance of liquidated damages, penalties, petition processing and other FP&F actions.  Enforcement actions involving participating accounts will be coordinated with the appropriate Center.

This is an excellent development to ensure uniformity of treatment within an industry and should also address compliance issues as well.  This is similar to the processes being introduced by U.S. Customs prior to 9/11, but on a much larger scale.  That program had five Strategic Trade Centers that specialized in “strategic industries”, but did not process entries etc.  The program was designed to facilitate trade through training, analysis, and national communication.  That ended quickly subsequent to 9/11, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.

The Centers of Excellence and Expertise program will require some adjustment for participants particularly in the area of communication, although many companies currently have excellent on-going working relationships with the personnel at the ports of entry through which their goods enter the U.S.  Ensuring that the high level of communication is retained will help facilitate both a steady movement of goods and a quick resolution of problems/issues.  Filers are very used to communicating directly with the entry and import specialists at the ports where their offices are located, and they will need to continue to work closely with their clients when communicating with the Centers.

New programs such as this one always require a period of time to adjust to the changes.  The fact that CBP is now only working with volunteers will give other importers an opportunity to learn about the process prior to being required to take part in it.  The volunteer importers on the other hand will have the advantage of helping CBP refine the process.  A document providing a detailed description of the program can be found on: CBP.gov /trade/for the trade community – Programs and Administration.  It is called “Centers of Excellence and Expertise Trade Process Document – Responsibilities and Procedures for Participating Accounts and Their Brokers, Agents, or Filers”.