A new import processing center focused on making it easier for pharmaceutical companies to comply with trade regulations has already helped U.S. Customs enforce anti-counterfeiting laws, Acting Commissioner David Aguilar testified last week.
Customs and Border Protection last fall established integration centers to centralize the entry summary process - including validations of classification, origin and value documentation - for certified shippers in the pharmaceutical/healthcare and consumer electronics/information technology industries. The offices are located in New York and Los Angeles, respectively.
The Centers for Excellence and Expertise, as the sector hubs are called, are specialized units of subject-matter experts that understand the workings of a particular industry and can make the duty assessment process more efficient. The CEEs have the knowledge and authority to guide when and how ports should inspect cargo for possible trade violations to make the process more consistent and less onerous. They also are one-stop shops for other government agencies and companies within a sector to get technical help on how to resolve trade compliance issues. The strength of the centers lies in the fact that they analyze shipping data for an entire industry and treat each company as an account. That means staff makes consolidated decisions about whether merchandise was properly classified and taxed, and base inspections on likely risks, rather than looking at each individual entry transaction.
Earlier this month, CBP announced it will create industry integration centers for the automotive and aerospace sectors in Detroit and one for petroleum, natural gas and minerals in Houston.
Revenue collection and security inspections will continue to be conducted at physical ports of entry.
Aguilar told the House Ways & Means subcommittee on trade that the CEEs' ability to strategically assess shipment patterns has enabled CBP to better identify threats to legitimate trade. The pharmaceutical CEE, he said, collaborated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on an investigation that led to charges against an individual for smuggling 40,000 tablets of counterfeit drugs into the country.
More significantly, the industry integration centers have been involved in shutting down a supply chain for the counterfeit anti-cancer drug Avastin, Aguilar said. Once CBP was notified that fake drugs had been discovered in the United States, the CEEs targeted specific overseas firms to monitor and created automated alerts at ports of entry to intercept and hold shipments of concern, he said.
"Because of the protocols developed in our CEEs, we have been able to react as soon as we receive information about potentially counterfeit and/or harmful medicines that might enter the country," the commissioner said. - Eric Kulisch