How competitors can learn your import/export trade secrets? And how can you learn theirs?

You have invested time, money and effort to locate overseas suppliers who meet your quality, delivery and price requirements. This is valuable confidential information that can give you a competitive edge. You think have done everything to protect this confidentiality - or have you?

It is relatively simple to secure the data from inland and outland vessel manifests, which reveal:

--shipper’s name and address;

--foreign port of lading;

--bill of lading number;

--description, piece count and weight of merchandise;

--date of arrival; and

--consignee’s name and address (inward manifest only).

This is a veritable who, what, when and where of your business. It may be regularly collected, organized and re-sold by trade-related service companies to various interested third parties The buyers may be rivals wanting to know your import/export practices, or competitors who want to find out whether you have been circumventing applicable regulatory requirements or duty obligations by reporting inaccurate information.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Fortunately,U.S. Customs and Border Protection permits you to formally request confidential treatment of certain types of information contained in vessel manifests. When done properly, such requests can eliminate the disclosure of your sensitive business information for two years, and this period may be extended by filing biennial renewals.

Of course, you may also obtain your competitors' export/import information if they have not requested confidentiality.