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American Shipper

Senate leaders propose Customs reauthorization

Senate leaders propose Customs reauthorization

   A Customs reauthorization bill introduced Thursday in the Senate would create a high-level position within Customs and Border Protection devoted to trade and require greater priority placed on trade facilitation and enforcement efforts.

   Several directives in the bill codify efforts already underway within CBP.

   The legislation for the first time establishes and fully authorizes CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which have only operated under annual discretionary appropriations from Congress.

   The spending and policy blueprint establishes a principal deputy commissioner and Office of Trade devoted to trade-related issues, a new division within the Office of Field Operations to improve customs facilitation and trade enforcement at U.S. ports, and a new trade advocate to act as a liaison between CBP and the private sector.

   CBP already has an Office of International Trade that consolidates trade policy and compliance in one office, but is the result of administrative decisions by a previous commissioner and can be eliminated or changed because it doesn't have statutory authority from Congress. It is headed by Assistant Commissioner Daniel Baldwin.

   The measure also requires CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, both within the Department of Homeland Security, to coordinate with other federal agencies to enforce U.S. trade laws and prevent unsafe or illegal goods from crossing the border.

   CBP in the past two years has stepped up collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration, Agriculture Department and Consumer Product Safety Commission, among others to deal with concerns about food and product safety.

   The legislation, offered by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and ranking member Charles Grassley, also directs CBP to provide additional trade benefits to participants in voluntary trade compliance and supply chain security programs, such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the Importer Self-Assessment program.

   “Customs facilitation and trade enforcement are vital to America's economic security,” Baucus said in a statement. “CBP and ICE have not focused sufficient resources on their trade missions and this bill would direct them to do so. It would give these agencies the resources and tools they need to better enforce our customs and trade laws so legitimate goods enter our country quickly, and harmful goods or goods that infringe intellectual property rights stay out.”

   The bill requires the two agencies to prepare a biennial joint strategic plan outlining their plans to improve customs-related enforcement. CBP must also develop better risk assessment methodologies to better target cargo that may violate U.S. laws without delaying legitimate cargo, and use available import data collected by the agency in its commercial targeting.

   The bill establishes an Interagency Import Safety Working Group headed by the secretaries of DHS and Health and Human Services to assist in developing an Import Safety Rapid Response Plan for dealing with imports that pose a health or safety threat to consumers. Federal, state and local agencies would have to practice their response plan at U.S. ports of entry.

   An Import Safety Working Group created by President Bush has already been working on many of these issues.

   The legislation also would create a National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center within ICE to coordinate federal efforts to prevent the import or export of goods that violate copyright or trademark protections. It also strengthens CBP's efforts to target goods that violate intellectual property rights rules, requires CBP to dedicate port personnel to IPR enforcement and streamlines CBP's copyright recordation process.

   The bill directs the authorization of additional funding for the Automated Commercial Environment and International Trade Data System, and requires CBP to develop a timeline for completing the implementation of these systems. The bill also streamlines CBP's duty drawback process, requiring that drawback claims be filed electronically and imposing objective drawback eligibility requirements.

   It also establishes a new interagency Customs Review Board to ensure that proposed changes to CBP's rules or regulations are consistent with U.S. international trade obligations. And the bill reforms the existing CBP and ICE Advisory Committee to improve consultations between the Agencies and the private sector.

   The American Association of Exporters and Importers issued a statement welcoming the bill and saying it will go a long way to rebalance CBP's trade and security missions. ' Eric Kulisch

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