Most countries impose legal control on the export of goods from their jurisdictions, while international trade agreements often include additional regulations. However, failing to observe new laws and sanctions can have severe consequences for importers as well.
When the Trump administration announced last month that it had secured a partial deal with Chinese negotiators to push pause on the escalating trade war, our nation’s leading retailers were among the first to praise the move.
“Retailers are encouraged by the progress made between the United States and China and are pleased that the administration has listened to the concerns of the business community as the trade war takes an increasing toll on the American economy,” says David French, senior vice president for government relations of The National Retail Federation.
French adds that the decision to delay planned tariff hikes is welcome, but incomplete news for shippers heading into the busy holiday shopping season. “Although this is a step in the right direction, the uncertainty continues,” French adds. “We urge both sides to stay at the negotiating table with the goal of lifting all tariffs and fundamentally resetting U.S.-China trade relations.”
Global logistics managers in automotive, electronics and agriculture sectors are also seeking regulatory compliance tips as both sides meet to finalize a tentative trade deal, while crafting the precise language of the preliminary phase.
The same goes for the pending revitalized United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), says Amy Magnus, president of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarder’s Association of America, Inc. (NCBFAA). “Importers navigating the entry filing process to meet the requirements of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other government agencies has always been challenging,” she says. “We know first-hand just how devastating more tariffs will be up and down the supply chain.”
Regarding the United Kingdom’s planned exit from the European Union (Brexit)—which was still up in the air at press time, Beth Pride, president of BPE Global, an international trade and logistics company, advises caution. “While these international issues are being fine-tuned, shippers should stick to compliance fundamentals and track changes in the Automated Commercial Environment [ACE],” she says.
Back to basics
Irrespective of international trade agreements, Pride believes that shippers should get back to basics. This includes understanding the changing landscape of Incoterms, which is a set of rules defining the responsibilities of sellers and buyers as determined by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). “As always, this is essential for shippers to understand the changes that could make an impact on the price they pay for materials and products,” she says.
It’s also essential that shippers have correctly classified their products from both an export and import perspective insists Pride. This includes the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS), the Schedule B and the Export Control Classification Number (ECCN). “Without these, shippers will be exposed to delays and the potential for additional costs,” she says.
And because HTS numbers change frequently, all of the top import classifications should be reviewed to ensure that they are still accurate. “Importers can procure product management solutions that identify when a tariff number is updated, changed or deleted to keep on top of changes to the HTS,” Pride advises.
Finally, shippers should continue to review deliver duty paid (DDP) contracts to plan for possible tariff impacts,” says. Pride. “This is essential to ensure that your DDP suppliers are abiding by the DDP rules and aren’t invoicing you for additional duties when they’re incurred,” she says. “If they’re asking you to pay for the Section tariffs, a different Incoterm should be used.”
Never enough preparation
When Customs comes knocking be prepared, insist compliance experts. Tom Gould, the former senior director of the Customs and International Trade Law firm at Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A. is a member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trade Support Network.
“CBP is seeing a ton of mistakes from shippers,” he says. “Whether you’re trying a new strategy to save on tariffs or are using a tactic you’ve used in the past, you just have to be more aware that CBP is looking more closely than it has before.”
Gould, who also serves on the board of the Foreign Trade Association, currently leads Flexport’s trade advisory services. He recommends that a shipper’s first step is to look at their data under the same light that CBP would, focusing heavily on transactional information, and putting in the necessary compliance procedures.
“Start by building a strategic approach toward the Section tariffs, analyzing the biggest figures and work your way down the list. As you go through the list, ask yourself: What products can you move out of China? Which products would be difficult to move? Which pieces of the supply chain can you partially move?”
Next, says Gould, shippers should make a priority list. “There might be specific products where a piece of machinery may be hard to move, but by understanding the origin rules for their products shippers will be in a better position to determine which part of their supply chain must be altered to change the origin country, thereby avoiding tariffs,” concludes Gould.
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