T’was six months before Christmas and all through the land companies are stirring preparing for the busy season to come. What will be the toy of the year? What cartoon or movie character will little boys and girls want to play with, wear, read about, or decorate their rooms? These are the questions importers and manufacturers are asking themselves. The decisions have already been made at the companies, the goods are made and ready to be shipped, if not already on the way. What are Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asking themselves?
This is a busy time for CBP and CPSC as they plan their annual operations in which the import specialists, officers, CPSC and ICE agents work together to target shipments for examination.
They are examining to ensure that the goods are what are manifested, and that they are correctly marked with the country of origin, and have permission to carry any trademarks and will not harm children due to small pieces that are easily removed and swallowed, or covered in paint that contains lead.
Memories are long at CBP and there are still those who remember the year that thousands of “Cabbage Patch Kid” dolls were seized for trademark violations, and the largest toy manufacturers found that lead paint had been used on some of their toys. Toy guns without the red tip are guaranteed to be seized. There are warehouses full of textiles which violate trademarks. The agencies definitely remember these instances and know that they are the frontline providing protection from illegal merchandise.
Examinations, testing, detentions and certainly seizures can temporarily, or even permanently, delay delivery of the shipments, and are very costly both in terms of money and reputation. Loss of the shipment, penalties, and a violator record in the CBP computer can ensure future examinations.
What is the best protection for the importer who wishes to avoid the delays? First of all, do your homework up front. Be sure the design of the toys has no small easily removed pieces and is appropriately marked for child’s age. Contract so that the manufacturer of the goods verifies that the materials are compliant with laws and regulations. In-company testing is recommended. Make sure that any trademarked goods are backed up by certification of right to use the trademark. These steps will not prevent any targeted exams but will shorten the delay, and when your product proves to be compliant it will decrease the odds against further repetitive exams.
Goods can get caught in the process for long periods of time when trademark owners cannot be readily contacted, or when the laboratory is backed up by the number of samples that are being taken. It is crucial that brokers and importers keep a close watch on the length of time of an examination, as vacations, workload and “crisis of the day” can cause CBP to miss seeing a lab report, a contact from a trademark owner, or a deadline. Do not antagonize them with daily updates, but it does not hurt to ask at least weekly.
It is six months before Christmas and importers of compliant goods can rest all snug in their beds dreaming of next year’s top toy.