The US Customs Service has recently proposed and developed a number of initiatives intended to ease the process of importing goods into the United States. One of these new programs provides for the certification of certain importers as "low-risk"—a designation that will ensure fewer exams of shipments by Customs, fewer requests for data and a prior review of data requests by a Customs Account Manager. More broadly, Customs has proposed several improvements to the entry process, some of which are already in the testing or implementation stage.
Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly and other high-level Customs officials announced the development of these new programs at a Trade Symposium in Washington, D.C. on November 30, 2000. Customs officials discussed the adoption of a new "risk management" approach to compliance issues. One aspect of this new approach is the designation of certain importers as "low risk," based on good compliance records and internal controls established during a Customs compliance assessment. To date, 380 US importers have undergone Customs compliance assessments to determine their level of compliance with customs laws and procedures.
Customs reports that in January 2001, 150 of those firms will be notified that they will receive a "low risk" designation. Among the benefits of such designation, low risk importers will undergo fewer cargo examinations and fewer information requests from port officials. The amount of that reduction will vary, depending on the type of product imported, but Customs officials mentioned as an example one retailer that had 250 cargo examinations last year and which should see fewer than 50 this year as a low risk importer. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, information requests sent by Customs to low risk importers will first go to an Account Manager at Customs, who will ensure that the information requested is necessary and has not already been supplied.
Customs is also improving a number of other aspects of the entry system. The most significant step in this modernization effort is the automation of the entry process using an automated commercial environment (ACE). The goal of ACE, the first phase of which has just received funding, is to create a paperless entry process. Customs is also testing a new Post Entry Amendment policy, with the goal of streamlining the cumbersome Supplemental Information Letter policy. The new policy allows for quarterly reporting of entry amendments (e.g., to classifications, valuations) resulting in less than $20 per entry and uniform processing by Customs of amounts greater than $20 per entry. Similarly, Customs is implementing a new reconciliation policy that will allow importers to report post-entry change information "en masse," with one bill or refund covering many, possibly thousands, of entries.
Relevance To All Importers
These changes should reduce the costs of compliance with US Customs regulations and will increase the emphasis of maintaining good compliance records and internal controls. Companies should ensure that their Customs compliance policies are up to the standards required for a "low risk" importer determination. They should also monitor the new development of other Customs improvements in order to be able to take advantage of their benefits as soon as they are made fully operational.