Customs and Border Protection this week held their annual Trade Symposium in downtown Chicago. The event draws importers, exporters, attorneys, customs brokers and anyone who does business with the agency in a trade capacity. CBP puts a lot of time and effort into this event every year and the commitment of the agency’s senior leadership to attend and speak and be available was on display. On the first day alone the event featured the acting head of CBP Mark Morgan as well as acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan who was elevated from the position of CBP Commissioner into his current role.
The agency reiterated to the trade they are committed to transparency, collaboration and communication. Given the fluidity with which the agency is responding to threats and new business models like e-Commerce, narcotics and synthetic opioids, agricultural initiatives and enforcing trade remedies like Section 232 and Section 301 investigations, it is no wonder they reiterate the reliance on the private sector to help them in their mission.
Importers know that CBP has opened their Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CEE’s) and that those groups are responsible for the processing and handling of entries of major commodity groups. Africa Bell, the Acting Executive Director of the Office of Trade Transformation, shared that the Base Metals CEE are responsible for the enforcement of the trade remedies of Section 232 steel and aluminum and fully 74% of the total lines for steel and 50% of the lines for aluminum fall under their jurisdiction.
Finally, there was a major takeaway about the evolution of e-Commerce and how it is changing CBP’s business processes. For example, while there were 35 million formal and informal entries filed over the course of a year, in the same period of time there were 625 million small package shipments through e-Commerce, the postal service and other means. Coupled with the increase in de minimus amounts to $800, many retailers are moving their supply chains further upstream into countries like China where they are packaging direct to consumer rather than into distribution centers in the United States. A representative of Zulily, the online clothing retailer, said they scaled up testing the concept in 2016 to shipping 9 million packages direct to buyers in 2018.
There were additional sessions focused on forced labor, illicit trade and changing processes at land border ports of entry. The takeaway is that while CBP’s mission of trade has been diversified greatly over time, there is no less focus on facilitating legitimate trade and importers should continue to take steps for compliance for product safety, security and ensuring accurate sourcing as potential transshipment routes are exploited to evade trade remedy duties.