In my position as the Census Bureau’s Trade Ombudsman and Chief, Regulations and Education and Outreach Branch, I worked closely with the United States Principal Parties in Interests (USPPIs), normally the exporter, and Freight Forwarders, who are usually the Automated Export System (AES) authorized agent.  USPPI’s always asked me if I could recommend a freight forwarder and/or an AES authorized agent.  At that time, being a Civil Servant, I did not think it was ethical for me to make a recommendation, but I did offer, based on my experience, some characteristics that make a good freight forwarder.

For example, ask the forwarder if they belong to any associations.  Why?  Because these forwarders, through their associations, are exposed to export/import training.  They have access to the latest developments in federal regulations.  They also knew us, the U.S. Government employees that wrote and interpreted U.S. trade regulations.  When we attended conferences and made presentations, or sat on panels, these forwarders were there sharing with us their knowledge and advocating their positions.  In other words, they were there helping us shape the regulations that impacted their jobs.

When conducting the interview process, ask them if they have attended any export compliance trainings.  For example, have they recently attended compliance seminars such as the Census Bureau’s AES Compliance; or the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Export ComplianceComplying with U.S. Export Controls or BIS Update?  Of course there are many other compliance trainings out there, but the question is, are they continuously seeking training in order to stay on top of the ever changing regulations?

Also look for a forwarder that is always asking questions.  Well, not questions about how’s the weather, but specific questions regarding your shipment.  For example, you want a forwarder who will call you to ask “where did you get this schedule B number?”, or “Are you sure that these night vision goggles are EAR 99?”  You need a forwarder who will say, “you have a problem,” before the shipment is filed.  I have seen many AES filers say, “I am not at fault, and I entered the information exactly as given to me by the USPPI.”  As a result, when a shipment is held up, it is your customer that suffers, which means that you suffer as well.

So, even if you do your own filings, always look for forwarders who are members of major trade associations such as the National Custom Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA), the American Associate of Exporters and Importers (AAEI), Society for International Affairs, and Women in Trade, etc.  Forwarders that regularly attend trainings, and most important, who ask questions about your shipment should be on the top of your list.

Remember, choosing a forwarder solely based on fees might not be the least expensive route, especially if an export enforcement agency issues a penalty on one of your shipments.