US Customs tightens rules on information for shipments to America

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 May, 2003, 12:00am

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will from Sunday tighten the screws on maritime trade transport firms that fail to submit accurate information for US-bound shipments before vessels set sail.

The move, announced on the CBP's Web site this week, is being seen as notice US Customs is now capable of fully enforcing global regulations that were made into law in February as an adjunct to America's Container Security Initiative.

From Sunday, all US-bound shipments with 'invalid' cargo descriptions, or those not submitted 24 hours before a vessel's sailing, will be delayed by 'do not load' orders.

From May 15, all shipments offering invalid consignee information will also be rejected with a first offence for both transgressions receiving a US$5,000 fine.

Second-time offenders will be fined US$10,000 as the Bush administration attempts to fine-tune a security initiative it believes will go a long way towards protecting maritime trade against acts of terrorism.

'Compliance with the 24-hour rule is a matter of national security,' the CBP said in announcing the heightened enforcement of the regulations.

'We caution those entities which have not taken [the rule and its implementation period] seriously that incomplete and late data will not be tolerated from carriers or NVOCCs [non-vessel owning common carriers] of any size.'

The regulations were enforced on February 2 after a three-month grace period but some leeway for compliance had been given while the CBP brought its monitoring capabilities up to a speed that could handle the mammoth task.

On average, 6,300 laden boxes left Hong Kong every day last year for US destinations, or about 10 per cent of US containerised imports. With China exports continuing to course through Hong Kong, that number would have increased in the first quarter.

But unlike the initial February 2 deadline that was forecast to bring chaos to the docks in Kwai Chung, the stricter compliance mandate is not expected to disrupt trade.

'I don't expect a major impact because we are running at pretty high compliance levels now,' an executive from the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association said.

'I suspect [the CPB] is warning people they now have the resources to be on top of things.

'If we were lucky enough to have had shipments slip through the cracks during the initial period, it is probably unlikely to happen anymore.'

Vague cargo descriptions such as 'apparel', 'appliances', 'equipment' and 'electronics' will join phrases such as 'said to contain' and 'freight all kinds' in the annals of Hong Kong's trading history from Sunday.

While the CBP said it would not start penalising shippers for categories in which acceptable definitions remain unclear, it is determined to clamp down on vague and late submissions. 'To be clear, in no case is a blank description [such as] 'freight all kinds, 'said to contain' . . . 'general merchandise', '26 pallets', 'consolidated cargo' or other similarly vague descriptions acceptable,' it said.

Like the shipping lines, members of the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (Haffa) do not anticipate any problems from Sunday's deadline.

'We have put the new information to our members and they have not come back with any complaints,' a Haffa spokesman said.

'However, we would like to see the two governments [Hong Kong and the US] better co-ordinate their Customs requirements so we don't have to submit all this information twice.'