For all those in trade who’ve always wished for their 15 minutes of fame, I think we can safely say we’ve hit that mark. When family members start asking questions about country of origin and tariff shifts at the dinner table, trade has officially made its prime time debut. And yet, with all the national nightly news coverage of the tariffs, the role of the broker is still under-explored. As our industry doesn’t actually bear responsibility for the payment of these tariffs, our role doesn’t usually rise to the limelight, but it does deserve some credit for the role we play in keeping trade moving during these turbulent trading times.
Customs brokers and freight forwarders exist to facilitate trade. We serve our clients and the national security interests in a variety of roles every day. But with the implementation of these new tariffs — 301 and 232 alike — our role as the unsung heroes of trade deserves a little time in the spotlight.
When the tariffs and quotas were first introduced, amidst much uncertainty of if, when and how they would be implemented, it was the software industry and the brokerage community that were working through the night to try and get the basic logistical challenges of keeping trade flowing across our boarders met. CBP did a yeoman’s job of turning over the code in ACE to work in this untested manner. The private sector took the changes in ACE and turned around code and procedures to adapt our systems to the changes in ACE in a remarkably short time.
It was the brokerage community that noticed the glitches in ACE that were not allowing our clients to self-select the date of duty calculation once goods were within the port limits of the entry port. It was the brokerage community that successfully pushed for hourly quota processing on newly quotaed goods. And it is the brokerage community that is on the front lines of working within ACE for exemption processing and refunds for newly exempted goods.
These are all services that we are proud to perform for our clients. But these services have all come at a cost to the brokerage community in terms of hours spent on figuring out the new playing field, the glitches in ACE and finding work-arounds that work, time spent on the phone with CBP and our software providers trying to make sure that above all else safe, secure and legitimate trade continues to flow across our borders every day.
We’ve had to spend time, money and business resources sorting through Chapter 98 requirements between 232 and 301 duties and then work with each of our clients to determine the impact of these duties on their overall business and how best to manage that impact.
Through this role, we’ve had the opportunity to gain increasing visibility within most client’s businesses on the vital role brokers and forwarders play in their own business success, and we believe that our clients value and appreciate the additional service we’ve provided through this transition.
On a more visible note, the brokerage community has also been a cornerstone in the trades’ understanding of the new bonding requirements. Many businesses are facing collateral requirements for the first time and the brokerage community is standing there to help support that process as a service provider and we hope true partner in compliance for our clients. We’ve also been vital to many clients efforts to set up ACH accounts with CBP to pay their tariffs directly and review supplier contracts to see where the ultimate cost of the tariffs will fall within their supply chain.
The brokerage community only exists to the extent that we can provide outstanding service to our clients when, where and how they need it. And as the tariffs and quotas continue to evolve, we are proud to be a part of our client’s teams, CBP’s front-line implementation industry and a vital part of the national security landscape.
So the next time you see your broker in the shadows of this front-page conversation on trade, we hope that you pull them into the limelight and let their good work on our industries’ behalf shine.
Megan Montgomery is the executive vice president of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America.