American ShipperShippingTrade and Compliance

CBP working to curb illicit e-commerce traffic

Action that will be taken includes advance manifests for goods from China arriving in Canada and being trucked across the U.S. border.

   The rapidly increasing wave of e-commerce shipments entering the United States from abroad over the past two years has Customs and Border Protection ready to take collective action with the industry to enhance security over this trade.
   “Stay tuned,” CBP Acting Deputy Commissioner Robert E. Perez told attendees at the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America’s Government Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday. “We’re about ready to roll up our sleeves and lock ourselves in a room like we did with CTPAT.”
   After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, CBP established CTPAT (Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) as part of its layered strategy for overseeing global supply chain security. The agency’s goal for the program has been to secure the flow of goods bound for the United States by developing voluntary anti-terrorism partnerships with companies within the international trade community. 
   “We’re getting close to doing the same” with e-commerce, Perez said. “I ask you to be at the ready.”
   To join CTPAT, companies sign a partnership agreement that provides CBP with the authority it needs to validate that members have adequate security. In return, members are eligible for benefits, such as a reduced likelihood that CBP will examine their shipments. CTPAT members’ collective shipments have accounted for more than half of all cargo by value entering the United States in recent years. CTPAT has just over 11,500 member companies. These include importers, consolidators, ocean carriers, marine terminals and foreign manufacturers.
   It’s unclear what exactly CBP has in mind yet for collectively enhancing the security of cross-border e-commerce. 
   CBP estimated that 1.4 million e-commerce shipments per day entered the United States in January. That number has since increased to 2.1 million shipments daily — and may reach 2.5 million a day by year’s end. 
   Consumers have increasingly turned to the Internet for shopping, which has greatly contributed to the rise in small package volumes. Online importers have also taken advantage of small package shipping with the increase in the U.S. de minimis level from $200 to $800, as allowed under the 2015 Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act. 
   Counterfeit and other unsafe products, as well as illegal narcotics, such as Fentanyl and other opioids, are increasingly making their way into the e-commerce stream.
   Todd E. Owen, CBP’s executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations, noted that the agency has observed a preponderance of ocean containers arriving from China at Canadian ports, being deconsolidated and then their products being shipped to the United States in truck trailers containing hundreds of small packages designed to qualify for U.S. de minimis. These truckloads have started to overwhelm CBP officers interdiction efforts at the northern border ports, he said. 
   Starting Jan. 1, like it has done already along the U.S.-Mexican border, CBP will require Canadian trucking companies to file advance manifests, including those with trailer loads of so-called Section 321 e-commerce shipments. “This is an area we’re going to take action on,” Owen said.
   However, Owen warned there are “no clear answers” yet to how CBP will get a more efficient handle on illicit e-commerce traffic entering the United States. 
   “We really need your help with this,” he told the NCBFAA conference attendees. With these immense e-commerce volumes, “we’re not going to interdict our way out of this,” he said.

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.