That’s what many customs brokers had to say about their recent experiences with processing imports through Customs and Border Protection during the 35-day federal government shutdown, which ended Jan. 25.
“CBP continued to assist us during a tough time and they did so with good cheer,” said Amy Magnus, president of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) and director of customs affairs and compliance for customs broker A.N. Deringer.
Geoff Powell, president of C.H. Powell Co. and past NCBFAA president, added, “I have to praise CBP in their efforts during the shutdown as the impacts to my business were minimal.”
CBP was one of the federal government agencies with national security responsibilities that maintained a bare-bones staff working without pay during the shutdown. Although imports continued to enter the U.S., certain duty refund programs and other administration functions were put on hold.
“The [drawback] specialists were working during the shutdown for all of the drawback offices and we are incredibly grateful for the work that they put in,” said Dave Corn, vice president of one of the nation’s oldest drawback specialists, Comstock & Theakston Inc., and co-chairman of the Association of American Exporters and Importers’ Drawback and Duty Deferral Committee. “They weren’t paid at that time but continued to do their jobs every day. I think everyone in the trade would agree that we are thankful for that.”
Drawback is a refund of customs duties paid on imported materials that are either exported or used in the manufacture of exported articles. With appropriate documentation, an exporter can receive up to 99 percent of duties paid.
“Now that the shutdown has ended, we have started to see payments resume,” Corn said. “We have also seen a payment of TFTEA (Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015) claims for the first time, and we expect that to be more consistent going forward once the backlog of claims has been cleared.”
Daniel Meylor, customs administration manager for Carmichael International Service, said Wednesday, “We just received our first two drawback refund checks yesterday.”
Although the refunds were delayed, Meylor said, “Customs really stepped up to the plate and kept the flow of cargo going. They came through for the trade.”
After the shutdown, the NCBFAA sent a letter to CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan praising the agency’s personnel “for their exemplary work during the recent lapse in appropriations of the federal government. Their hard work and dedication in facilitating the safe and secure movement of trade, while operating at less than full capacity, is worthy of nothing but the highest praise and is a testament to your leadership.”
The association’s letter particularly thanked CBP’s senior leadership, particularly Valerie Neuhart, deputy director of CBP’s Office of Trade Relations, Thomas Overacker, executive director for cargo and conveyance security, and Jim Swanson, director of cargo security and controls, for keeping the communication channels open to the trade during the shutdown. “Their biweekly briefings and timely updates ensured our members — and the trade at large — were well equipped to handle the challenges they encountered as a result of the shutdown,” NCBFAA wrote.
Powell noted that other government agencies with regulatory oversight of imports also did their best to work with customs brokers. “We handle a number of products under FDA (Food and Drug Administration) jurisdiction and they too should be commended for their proactive communication and staffing,” he said.
However, Magnus said the customs brokers and CBP are “still recovering” from the shutdown. “A lot of things were pushed back,” including ongoing trade meetings with CBP on topics like in-bond. Important programming for Section 301 tariff exclusions programming in CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is another example, she added.
CBP is planning to hold its next Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) quarterly meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27.
Meanwhile, the customs broker industry remains concerned that the federal government could shut down again, if the White House and Congress fail to reach a consensus on a long-term budget.
“If meetings get canceled again, it will push back important discussions on functionality,” Magnus said. “It will set a lot of people [in the trade and CBP] back and be discouraging.”