U.S. customs brokers play an integral and instrumental role in keeping the national supply chain secure. A licensed customs broker is regulated by CBP and hired by importers to facilitate the movement of goods across the U.S. border and into the customs territory of the United States. This license certifies to anyone looking to hire a broker that the person has an in-depth understanding of the laws and regulations that govern imports.
The involvement of a licensed broker enhances the compliance of import transactions benefiting the government and business. A customs broker works with their client to collect all the pre-clearance data necessary to secure entry into the U.S., file the data with CBP via a multi-billion dollar targeting and data collection system called the Automated Commerce Environment (ACE), facilitate payment of duties and fees, assist and support the importer in addressing any issues with their shipments, and works with the importer to resolve any post-entry discrepancies or report any changes as required to CBP. The customs broker also assists the importer in determining whether their shipment is subject to regulation by any other government agency besides CBP and, if so, what data needs to be collected and transmitted to that agency to confirm compliance and receive a release.
Much of this work is done via the ACE platform. ACE is the single-window system of record for imports into the United States. After more than 10 years and approximately $4 billion dollars in taxpayer money, ACE facilitates any and all import data submitted to the U.S. in conjunction with the clearance of goods.
While access to ACE is readily available to all importers, over 95 percent of importers choose to partner with a licensed customs broker to make the submission of the request for an import, referred to as an "entry," and any follow up as easy and compliant as possible. Once all the appropriate data is submitted to CBP and any other government agencies that regulate that entry - FDA for food and drugs, EPA for chemicals, etc. - run that data through their targeting algorithms and produce a risk assessment that ultimately determines whether a package gets stopped for additional physical screening, is denied entry into the U.S., or if additional information is needed. Once a package clears the entry process and enters the U.S. customs territory, the customs broker supports their client in the payment of duties if applicable, maintaining compliance with and post entry tracking needs, record keeping requirements, and any additional interaction that the government would request with the importer.
The United States recently raised the level of value that an entry must hit in order to be subject to customs duties, referred to as the "de minimus" value and outlined in section 321 of the U.S. customs code, from $200 to $800, the highest in the world. In doing so, the U.S. significantly increased the volume of trade not processed through the ACE entry and PGA targeting systems.
Two things are important to note here. First, low value does not always equal low risk, as evidenced by the active and lucrative drug trade currently overwhelming the U.S. via parcel. And secondly, exemption from duties does not mean that a package is exempt from entry and data requirements other than the duty and from government regulations that exist to protect U.S. businesses and consumers. Any time any person or company causes a package to cross the U.S. border and enter the U.S. stream of commerce, that person takes on the role and responsibility of an importer and, as a result, the charge of maintaining appropriate compliance for that import with the laws, rules, and regulations of the U.S. Ignorance is not an excuse in this area, and anyone who is donning the hat of importer should thoroughly understand the laws governing that role. One way to quickly and easily achieve that objective is to partner with a customs broker on your import.
As the voice of the customs broker industry on a national level, the NCBFAA is proud of the vital role that our members play in maintaining the security of the United States. We are licensed by the government and work with our clients to ensure that their imports come into this country safely, efficiently, economically, and as conveniently as possible for their ultimate customer - the American consumer.
We stand with all those Americans who want good, safe products delivered to their doors and rely on the government to enforce the laws that protect us all.
Megan Montgomery is executive vice president of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc. (NCBFAA). Headquartered in Washington, DC, the NCBFAA represents nearly 940 member freight forwarders, customs brokers, ocean transportation intermediaries (OTIs), NVOCCs and air cargo agents serving more than 250,000 U.S. importers and exporters.