International shippers face wider Customs regulations
By Shannon Pettypiece
International shippers will be required to give detailed descriptions of cargo entering the country via plane, train or trucks under proposed US Customs regulations.
A post-9/11 law requiring ocean shippers to disclose contents 24 hours before departure is expected to be broadened in mid-October to include air, rail and truck cargo.
The new regulations are intended to improve efficiency and security at ports of entry, customs officials said. But shippers are concerned it will add cost and delays to their business.
Under the new regulations, air carriers originating outside North America must give cargo descriptions four hours before arrival. US-bound cargo departing from other North American countries would be disclosed on departure.
Shipments stopping in the US on the way to other countries would be affected as would be large shipments of documents and diplomatic pouches. Passenger baggage and carry-on merchandise would not be included in the new law.
Some say they are concerned that importers using Miami as a stop on their way to Latin America will move to nearby Caribbean ports to avoid US regulations.
"A lot of these rules will apply to cargo that moves in-transit, making us vulnerable to other, non-US ports," said trade and immigration attorney Gilbert Lee Sandler.
Rail cargo would need to be disclosed two hours before arrival and truck cargo would require advanced notice of 30 minutes to one hour under the proposal.
Ocean shipments can be placed on hold, denied entry or fined $5,000 to $10,000 if sea shippers do not comply with the law, said Donald Francey of shipping company Maersk Sealand.
"The most significant change is that cargo descriptions are now very detailed, and vague descriptions of cargo are rejected by US Customs," Mr. Francey said.
Because customs cannot search every container, advance disclosures can help them target suspicious shipments and speed the inspections.
The proposed law includes the wording: "The cargo information required is that which is reasonably necessary to enable high-risk shipments to be identified so as to prevent smuggling and ensure cargo safety and security."
Mr. Sandler, the attorney, said small companies that consolidate goods are hurt by the law because they are forced to disclose shipments to a third party, the shipping company, which could share the information with other businesses.
Air cargo regulations would mainly hurt businesses that fly perishable goods into Miami International Airport because they wouldn't have enough time to load goods on a plane and give proper notification, he said.
Frank Santeiro of FedEx Express Latin America and Caribbean said new regulations must not hamper the speed of shipments. "It is critically important that increased security be achieved without impeding or slowing the flow of international trade," Mr. Santeiro said.
Maersk Sealand officials would not comment on how a new law would affect its trucking business but did say that since the sea-cargo rule went into effect in February, the company has added staff to handle extra paperwork associated with the regulations.
The public has until Friday to respond to the proposed change. Customs will review the feedback and plans to make a final rule by October.
Mr. Santeiro said Customs should publish and seek comment on an economic-impact study before making a final ruling.
Many say Customs in unlikely to make any changes.
"Customs held quite a few public meetings," Mr. Sandler said. "It is highly unlikely that this is going to change substantially."