Customs operations on House Committee agenda
Several representatives from major U.S. companies that depend on international trade are scheduled to testify Thursday at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing to reauthorize spending programs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Members of Congress will review several areas of Customs responsibility, including border and cargo security, public/private cooperation, phase-out of textile quotas at the end of the year, development of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), and the Department of Homeland Security's plan to overlay a regional management structure on top of Customs and other agencies.
Fears that the regionalization plan will undermine progress during the last decade to get port districts to apply customs laws in a more uniform fashion are amplified by the fact that the DHS has secretly developed its plan without informing or seeking input from the trade community, said Michael Laden, president of Target Customs Brokers.
Meanwhile, importers 'still can't get answers' from Customs or the Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements, which sets U.S. textile trade policy, on operational rules for processing textile shipments once quotas end, Laden said on the sidelines of the Association of American Exporters and Importers conference in New York.
In early April, a key industry advisory group pleaded with Customs to begin setting rules about how to handle quota-free goods come Jan. 1, because apparel buyers must make purchasing decisions months in advance. Under World Trade Organization rules all but a handful of countries will no longer be subject to quotas governing the origin, type and amount of fabric and apparel exports. The issue likely will be on the agenda for Friday's meeting of Customs' Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations (COAC).
Laden said the trade community is still concerned about cost overruns and missed deadlines for developing components of ACE and the extent to which the International Trade Data System will be developed to manage trade information collection and dissemination across the government.
The longer it takes to create ACE, the longer traders must continue to rely on Customs' 20-year-old computer. The Automated Commercial System is 'wobbling' under the strain of today's enormous requirements 'and held together by bailing wire and bubblegum,' Laden said.