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Don’t exacerbate delays by overlooking customs side of shipping

It’s imperative that importers have customs documents in order long before shipments arrive at congested ports

Oct. 20, a record-setting 103 container ships were either at berth or waiting offshore at the Los Angeles/Long Beach terminals. That represents a total of around $26.2 billion worth of goods off the coast waiting to disembark. Image: The Port of Long Beach (Jim Allen, FreightWaves).

Amid the uncertainty permeating global shipping, one thing is certain: Delays at port are inevitable — and will be for quite some time. This leaves importers no time to spare, rendering additional delays unaffordable.

Freight rates have increased dramatically across the board in 2021, with some describing it as shadow inflation. FreightWaves covered the topic extensively, noting that ocean cargo shippers are paying more than they ever have for the worst service they’ve ever experienced.

If the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach only had Yelp scores. 

The Southern California ports have become the epicenter of America’s container chaos. As of Oct. 20, a record-setting 103 container ships were either at berth or waiting offshore at the Los Angeles/Long Beach terminals. That represents a total of around $26.2 billion worth of goods off the coast waiting to disembark.

Making matters worse, thousands of additional empty containers from East Coast and Gulf Coast ports are LA-bound, courtesy of carriers looking to capitalize on Los Angeles’ faster trade route times with China. But many expect this to further congest the finite yard space at the San Pedro ports and area yards and make the chassis shortage worse.

“It’s a nightmare getting your cargo delivered and the costs are phenomenal,” said Robert Chin Quee, SVP of customs clearance at GEODIS, detailing the land-side challenges contributing to the ports’ container clusters, including the depletion of chassis pools and the lack of drayage drivers.

“Containers are not moving back and forth, so a lot of importers are buying their own containers to move goods because some containers are sitting at various ports around the world and aren’t going back to the origin point to reship goods in those containers.”

It’s imperative that importers have their customs documents in order long before their shipments arrive at congested ports. To avoid further delays, Chin Quee urges importers not to overlook this critical process.

GEODIS Director of Product Management Erin Williamson suggests that importers dot their I’s and cross their T’s before making overseas purchase orders. This involves a bit of homework, making sure that importers have the proper licenses and permits in place for review by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and participating government agencies. “We always say being proactive is best,” she added.

“If the importer wasn’t proactive in determining what was needed or what was necessary, there could be delays once the container actually arrives, as it would have to be examined if documentation was either incorrect or wasn’t provided at all,” Williamson said. 

Errors like these compound the time by which shipments can be received at port, inducing more headaches for all stakeholders. In fact, ongoing port delays have customs brokers footing the bill for lengthier demurrage due to port congestion preventing truckers from making on-time pickups, Chin Quee added.

Trucker and equipment shortages have made it nearly impossible to keep up with the surges in cargo volumes. These ripple effects have greatly expanded the customs brokerages’ small but crucial role in the global supply chain. Chin Quee said clients are mainly asking for good truckers and bonded warehouse space. “Regardless of our area of responsibility, we will adapt and make it work.”

GEODIS’ customs experts work as an extension of the importer itself, handling all of the import and export movements of its goods according to the latest regulations. In addition, GEODIS guarantees the correct and quick issuance of all mandatory foreign trade documents to comply with international regulations.

“We act as the eyes and ears of the importer on the customs broker side,” said GEODIS SVP of CHB Brian Riley. “GEODIS communicates to the truckers, steamship lines and airlines what the product is, where it is, and whether we can move it through the queue to get it out of the pier or air cargo facility faster.”

Delays demand answers, which is why it’s important for the importer to have the visibility tools necessary to communicate shipment updates in real time with customers. Through its Core Customs and Value-added Customs solutions, GEODIS aims to ensure product compliance and delivery to market as quickly as possible.

One of its value-added solutions is the Customs Control Tower, which coordinates customs flows globally. The platform acts as a single point of contact and offers a dedicated web portal to provide importers with a full overview of their imports and exports to and from anywhere in the world.

“The last thing we would want an importer to do is buy goods from overseas and it not be priced accordingly,” Williamson said, describing a situation in which the landed cost ends up being much more than anticipated because the importer didn’t take into consideration anti-dumping countervailing duties, trade remedies, etc. “We have multiple layers of assistance available to importers to make sure they have all of their ducks in a row while their shipments are still on the water.”

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Jack Glenn

Jack Glenn is a sponsored content writer for FreightWaves and lives in Chattanooga, TN with his golden retriever, Beau. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.