Credit: David Bohrer / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Customs and Border Protection could eventually expand the role of its 10 Centers of Excellence and Expertise beyond revenue-related functions to include making decisions on how and when to release imported goods into U.S. commerce, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said earlier this month.
The relatively new centers are organized by industry to provide centralized processing of entry summaries and post-release activities associated with payment of customs duties. The idea is to provide importers with more predictable processing by routing entry summary documents to industry specialists who can ensure guidelines for inspecting shipments are followed and redundant paperwork isn't required since subject matter experts understand the shipping patterns involved. A major industry complaint has been that customs processing isn't uniform at ports of entry around the country because import specialists at each location interpreted the rules and regulations differently. The CEEs also serve as a single point of contact for traders and other border agencies to quickly resolve problems and provide assistance on the best ways to comply with various trade rules.
Revenue collection, cargo release and security checks still occur at the ports, but Kerlikowske, responding to an audience question at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Supply Chain Summit on May 8, said he could envision a broader role for the integrated industry centers once the transition to the CEEs is fully implemented.
Kerlikowske has visited the electronics CEE in Los Angeles; the pharmaceutical, health and chemical CEE in New York; the metals CEE in Chicago and the automotive and aerospace center in Detroit since he took office a little more than two months ago.
He said an official from a large drug maker that was importing a new drug told him the CEE was very helpful in ensuring its product easily got through customs.
The CEE concept is extremely popular among industry experts, who helped the agency co-create the program.
“It’s one of the best ideas CBP has had in a long time,” Douglas Browning, global customs counsel for General Motors and a former deputy commissioner at CBP, told American Shippe
r after the Chamber event. “Having a regulator who is not only a regulator, but a partner who understands our business, is very important.”
Browning said GM would welcome expanding the CEE’s responsibilities.
CBP officers at ports would still have to check anomalies for shipments with potential fraud or security concerns, but being able to get the release authorization from a central entity that understands a company’s track record on compliance because of account-based management practices would expedite shipments and save everybody time, Browning said.
“That would be a huge plus up,” he said.
Browning added that having the ability to call the automotive CEE to get guidance and make sure there were no potential complications associated with a planned internal change to one of GM’s shipping procedures was very important.
During his trip to Chicago on May 7, the Kerlikowske also toured O'Hare International Airport and the International Mail Facility, according to CBP. He also participated in a Trade Roundtable that included representatives from Expeditors, Euromarket Designs (dba Crate & Barrel), Tellabs, Sears, Abbvie, HAVI Global Solutions, and representatives from the offices of Congressmen Peter Roskam and Bobby Rush, and Sen. Richard Durbin.
In his Chamber speech and in Chicago, Kerlikowske expressed his intention to continue CBP's three-year-old effort to transform the way it does business so legitimate shippers can get their cargo past the border faster, at less cost and with more transparency.