9/11 – 18 years on

WTC 6, home to the US Customs Service, New York until September 2001

As unrecognisable as the building is, the same can be said for the world of Customs today. Few contemplated a ‘Customs’ parallel at the time; but, when the Department of Homeland Security was launched, the emergence of US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) ushered in a new way of doing business. The world of Customs was literally ‘turned on its head’. Bilateral overtures seeking agreements on ‘container security’, ‘port security’ as well as an industry focussed ‘Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism’ (C-TPAT) forced the World Customs Organisation (WCO) into swift action. After years of deliberation and negotiation several guidelines were released, later to be packaged as the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards. It seemed that the recent Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) on simplification and harmonisation of Customs procedures was already ‘dated’. Customs as a proud solo entity was gone for ever, as country after country seemed compelled to address border security through wholesale transformation and upheaval of their border frontier policies and structures. Thus was born ‘border security’ and ‘cooperative border management’. In a manner of speaking, 9/11 put Customs onto the global map. Along with WCO developments, the tech industries brought about several innovations for risk management and other streamlined and efficient service offerings. Prior to 9/11, only the wealthy countries could afford non-intrusive inspection capabilities. One key aspect of the SAFE Framework’s was to include a pillar on Capacity Building. Through this, the WCO and business partners are able to offer tailor-made assistance to developing countries, to uplift their Customs and border capabilities. In particular, countries in Africa now are now in a position to consider ‘automated’ capabilities in the area of Customs-2-Customs information exchange as well as establishment of national Preferred Trader and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) schemes. At the same time a parallel industry of ‘Customs Experts’ is being developed in conjunction with the private sector. The end result is the availability of ‘standards’, ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’ fit for Customs and Border operations, focussed on eliminating incompatibilities and barriers to trade. Where these exist, they are largely attributed to poor interpretation and application of these principles. With closer cooperation amongst various border authorities still a challenge for many countries, there are no doubt remedies available to address these needs. In gratitude, let us remember the thousands of public servants and civilians who lost their lives that we can benefit today.

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Houston International Airport – Customs officers take a closer look at faces

Customs and Border Protection is analyzing the distance between travelers’ eyes and the width of their foreheads to better track international travelers.

This week the agency began using facial recognition technology at Bush Intercontinental Airport on one daily flight departing Houston for Tokyo.

“The use of biometrics is approaching an almost everyday type of experience,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research company. “It’s much more common now than it was 10 to 20 years ago.”

Similar technology is increasingly used everywhere. For instance, fingerprints are used to unlock phones and access secure banking information. Facebook can automatically recognize and tag friends in photos. And a variety of airport entities, ranging from airlines to the Transportation Security Administration, also are using biometric data to enhance security and expedite traveling.

Some still question the reliability of facial recognition technology, but it has evolved over the years and continues improving.

Delta and JetBlue recently announced collaborations with Customs and Border Protection to integrate facial recognition technology as part of the boarding process. And Customs began piloting its own facial recognition technology in June 2016 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The technology then was rolled out at Washington Dulles International Airport in May 2017, and seven additional airports will receive the technology in the next several months.

Customs “sees potential for the technology to transform the travel process provided privacy issues can be addressed,” an agency spokesperson said in an email.

“The use of biometrics to confirm identity from the beginning to the end of travel has the potential to reduce the frequency travelers have to present travel documents throughout the airport.”

Currently, the system takes pictures of individual travelers right before they board an international flight. That photo is then compared with a flight-specific photo gallery Customs and Border Protection created using travel documents passengers provided to the airline.

Officials say capturing this type of biometric information will ensure travelers aren’t lying about their identity. And the agency spokesperson emphasized that Customs worked closely with its privacy office. If the photo captured at boarding is matched to a U.S. passport, the photo of that traveler – having been confirmed as a U.S. citizen – is discarded after a short period of time.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any resistance by consumers to this,” Harteveldt said, “provided they’re given very clear explanations about what information is being collected, why it’s being collected and a high-level understanding of the safeguards that will be taken to keep their biometrics data safe and secure.”

 Opinions vary on whether capturing such data from departing travelers will boost security or hurt airlines’ on-time performance. But the point is moot. Laws requiring exit control have been on the books for many years.

“It is already required by law, and it has taken way too long to implement an effective exit technology,” said Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that pushes for stricter immigration controls.

He said monitoring foreign travelers as they leave the U.S. helps enforce immigration laws. And if visitors enter the country legally but officials later realize they pose a threat, this exit system will tell officials if they are still in the U.S.

Harteveldt, however, said passport and visa information is already collected when travelers leave the country. He doesn’t believe biometrics are needed.”I’m just not sure it adds a lot of value to the exit process,” he said.

But compared with fingerprint technology, Harteveldt said facial scanning can be faster and cleaner. There’s no need to touch anything. Customs officers at Bush Intercontinental began taking the fingerprints of some departing international travelers in 2015.

Anthony Roman, president of global investigation and risk management firm Roman & Associates, said the best type of security is layered and uses cross-verification, such as a Customs and Border Protection officer checking passports, fingerprinting machines and facial recognition technology.

As for the latter, he said developers claim to have solved problems found in the older facial recognition technology. These past problems included false readings caused by a shadow on the face, blinking at the wrong time or even grimacing. Algorithms were also slow at processing the data.

The new technology is supposed to be faster and more accurate. “Whether that’s true or not, time will tell,” Roman said.

Arthur is still waiting to see that facial recognition technology is as reliable as fingerprinting. He wants to know the number of false positives and if facial recognition technology is affected by haircuts, beards or glasses.

They both agree, however, that the vigilance is warranted.

“Our technology needs to keep evolving,” Roman said. “We need to keep changing what we’re doing. It makes it more difficult for the insurgents to create long-term research and development projects to overcome existing technology.” Source: Houston Chronicle

CBP Launches “Know the Facts” Awareness Campaign

Know the FactsU.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske formally rolled out the “Know the Facts” campaign today. The campaign, launched on July 20 in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, encourages those considering attempts to illegally enter the U.S., to “Know the Facts” and avoid embarking on the dangerous trek north only to be returned to their country.

“This campaign is designed to educate would-be travelers in Central America and Mexico about the realities of the journey north human smugglers have no regard for human life,” said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. “It is critical that they are aware of the facts behind U.S. immigration policies before risking their lives. There are no ‘permisos.’”

The campaign is designed to increase awareness of U.S. immigration policies and enhanced enforcement on the U.S. border, clearly and simply stating the facts behind U.S. immigration policies. Source: USCBP

US Customs to assist exporters in resolving disputes with foreign customs

CBP logoU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published a Federal Register Notice inviting U.S. exporters to request CBP’s assistance in resolving disputes with foreign customs agencies over the tariff classification or customs valuation of U.S. exports. CBP explains that it is willing to assist U.S. exporters with these disputes under the auspices of the World Customs Organization (WCO). CBP is very active at the WCO and regularly participates in meetings concerning the application of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS System) and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Customs Valuation Agreement (CVA). According to CBP, this process was helpful in providing a successful outcome for clients who disputed a foreign customs agency’s classification of imported goods.

Tariff Classification
CBP represents the United States at meetings under the auspices of the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (“HS Convention”). The HS Convention is the international agreement that provides that WCO Members will implement the HS System and comply with decisions of the various committees organized under the convention. CBP attends semiannual meetings of the WCO’s Harmonized System Committee (HSC), where contracting parties to the HS Convention examine policy matters, make decisions on classification questions, settle disputes, and prepare amendments to the HS System and its Explanatory Notes.

Article 10 of the HS Convention governs disputes between contracting parties concerning the interpretation or application of the HS Convention. The article provides that parties with potential disputes should first try to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations. If such negotiation cannot resolve the dispute, the parties may refer the dispute to the HSC for its consideration and recommendations. The HSC, in turn, refers irreconcilable disputes to the WCO Council for its recommendations.

Customs Valuation
CBP represents the United States at the WCO with respect to issues arising under the CVA. Pursuant to Annex II to the CVA, the WCO’s Technical Committee on Customs Valuation (TCCV) is authorized to examine specific problems arising from the customs valuation systems of WTO Members. The TCCV is responsible for examining the administration of the CVA, providing WTO Members with advisory opinions regarding particular customs valuation issues, and issuing commentaries or explanatory notes regarding the CVA. Like the HSC, the TCCV may get involved in disputes amongst foreign customs agencies. CBP stands willing to help U.S. exporters with these disputes. This process may provide U.S. exporters with a faster procedure to resolve disputes than a typical WTO dispute.

CBP’s Role at the WCO May Resolve Export Issues for U.S. Exporters
CBP states in the notice that its communication with other customs administrations through the meetings of the HSC and TCCV at the WCO can “often serve to eliminate or resolve export issues for U.S. traders.” As an example, in 2014, a U.S. exporter notified CBP of a foreign customs administration’s misclassification of its textile exports. The U.S. exporter requested that pursuant to Article 10 of the HS Convention, CBP (1) contact the foreign customs administration to resolve the tariff classification dispute; and (2) refer the matter to the HSC at the WCO, if it could not be resolved bilaterally. After confirming it agreed with the U.S. exporter’s position, CBP engaged the foreign customs administration directly. Within seven months of the exporter’s request, CBP secured a favorable decision by the foreign customs administration to classify the merchandise in a manner consistent with the U.S. position. Consequently, the U.S. exporter obtained correct tariff treatment of its imported merchandise in the foreign country as a result of CBP’s engagement.

Source: http://www.internationaltradecomplianceupdate.com/

Port of Savannah – USGov ‘Shutdown’ not causing a slowdown here

Port of Savannah (Picture: Customsnow.cm)

Port of Savannah (Picture: Customsnow.cm)

While US shippers dependent on some federal agencies to clear cargo are seeing delays at U.S. ports of entry, Savannah’s port has so far dodged that bullet.

Shipments requiring paperwork from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture — all of which face severe staff reductions because of the shutdown — have been delayed up to several hours, according to Marianne Rowden, president and CEO of the American Association of Exporters and Importers.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the primary organization working the Port of Savannah, is among the federal agencies whose mission is considered “essential” and will largely remain intact.

CBP says the shutdown will only furlough about 6,000 out of the 58,000 agency employees. Many offices and port operations will continue functioning as usual.

But the shutdown has resulted in far fewer resources at the EPA, FDA and USDA to process certifications and other documents needed to clear some cargo, Rowden said, adding that shippers of food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, radiological products and environmentally sensitive items should be ready for slower Customs clearance.

The partial shutdown affects the information technology-intensive shipping industry more than just on the Customs clearance side. Filings and data releases from agencies, including the Federal Maritime Commission and the International Trade Commission, have stopped.

The FMC, for example, isn’t accepting a variety of filings, nor is it accepting or acting on complaints and requests for dispute resolution. Source: Savannahnow.com

US Customs – $100 million customs fraud uncovered

 

The article below has been doing the rounds over various social media the last few days. The ‘standout’ issue for me is the fact that such an alleged crime occurred in the USA. With the focus of the customs world nowadays so much on the anti-terror campaign, could it be that one of the single biggest enforcement agencies in the world is not as sharp on traditional customs fraud activities? With the boundless focus on ‘safety and security’ it often seems as though the traditional customs crimes have given way to ‘globally networked syndicates’ using every means of technology to by-pass sovereign authorities. Yet, when you read the brief below, it all boils down to the human factor. To what extent the outcome of this case will attest to the Customs and Border Protection Agency’s risk management capability and moreover the extent to which such campaigns as CT-PAT really give the agency the edge in better ‘knowing’ its customers remains to be seen. A successful border agency must still do the basic things right, as dated as they may seem in the modern world. This case therefore proves how important it is for any national customs and border management agencies to invest in customs-skills training with lesser emphasis on the technology side of things. It is so unfortunate that most countries see Customs Capacity Building as an investment in technology. At this rate with no investment in customs technique, who is going to be able to properly interpret risk indicators if all the agency employs are statisticians and university post-graduates?

SAN DIEGO, CA – A complaint charging eight individuals and three corporations with operating a ring that illegally imported hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign goods into the United States though the Long Beach Port-of-Entry and evaded millions of dollars in import taxes was unsealed today, announced United States Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy.

According to the complaint, the defendants’ scheme focused on purchasing large, commercial quantities of foreign-made goods and importing them without paying import taxes or A Customs duties. As alleged in the charging documents, wholesalers in the United States would procure commercial shipments of, among other things, Chinese-made apparel and Indian-made cigarettes, and arrange for them to be shipped by ocean container to the Port of Long Beach, California. Before the goods entered   States, the defendants generated paperwork and database entries indicating that the goods were not intended to enter the commerce of the United States, but instead would be transshipped “in-bond” to another country, such as Mexico.

As noted in the complaint, this in-bond process is a routine feature of international trade. Goods that travel in-bond through the territory of the United States do not formally enter the commerce of the United States, and so are not subject to Customs duties.By claiming that the goods would be transshipped in-bond to another country, the defendants falsely represented that no Customs duties applied.

According to the complaint, instead of completing the in-bond transshipment, the defendants would hire truck drivers to haul the shipments to warehouses throughout Southern California. After generating the false paperwork and database entries, the goods would then be diverted back to Los Angeles and other destinations for shipment throughout the United States. As the conspirators had now effectively imported the goods tax-free, they could in turn sell more merchandise at cheaper prices and reap greater profits than their law-abiding competitors, including domestic American manufacturers of the same goods.

The complaint alleges that in addition to harming lawful domestic businesses, the defendants deprived the United States of the Customs duties that it was owed on these diverted shipments. To date, the government has already identified more than 90 commercial shipments of Chinese-made apparel, foreign-made cigarettes and other goods that were illegally imported in this manner. Altogether, these shipments were worth at least $100 million and resulted in more than $10 million in lost Customs duties, taxes and other revenue.

According to United States Attorney Duffy, “The charges announced today underscores our commitment to ensure that no one exploits the import process for personal gain. Not only does such illegal conduct present a significant danger to the American people, but it deprives law-abiding companies of a level playing field resulting in the potential loss ofbillions of dollars in revenue.”

“This investigation pulled back the curtain on a potentially costly fraud scheme operating in one of the world’sbusiest commercial centers,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Instead, HSI, aided by our law enforcement partners, exposed and dismantled this criminal ring and now those responsible will be held accountable.”
“Every day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials work to protect the U.S. and interdict fraudulent goods from entering the country. I commend the work of our officers for their instinct and diligence, and recognize the seamless coordination across government agencies,” said David V. Aguilar, Acting Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Joint efforts such as this are crucial to maintaining our nation’seconomic security and competitiveness.”

“The FDA-Office of Criminal Investigations is fully committed to investigating and supporting the prosecution of those who may endanger the public’s health and safety by importing unsafe and potentially life-threatening products. We commend the U.S.Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California for their diligence,”said Lisa Malinowski, Acting Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, Los Angeles Field Office. As alleged in the complaint,defendant Gerardo Chavez is President of the San Diego Customs Brokers Association and a licensed Customs broker. Using his Customs license, Chavez, his employees and his companies—including defendants Tecate Logistics, LLC and International Trade Consultants, LLC—generated the fraudulent Customs paperwork that was integral to the scheme. Similarly, Chavez and his companies would make false entries into Customs databases, in order to create the false appearance that in-bond shipments of foreign-made goods had been lawfully transshipped to Mexico. As part of this effort, Chavez, Joel Varela and others would also forge official Customs markings to make it appear as if a United States Customs official had certified various shipments as having been transshipped to Mexico.

Charging documents also allege that Chavez had several dedicated customers who were part of the conspiracy. For example, defendant Sunil Mirwani, a citizen of the United Kingdom, received dozens of shipments of illegally imported Chinese-made apparel at warehouses throughout the Los Angeles area. Mirwani marketed and sold the apparel using hiscompany, defendant M Trade Inc. Similarly, defendant Rene Trahin and other co-conspirators distributed various shipments of illegally imported “gray market” cigarettes ranging from Indian-made to German-made brands to warehouses, self-storage areas and a residence in San Diego, Los Angeles and parts between.

The complaint alleges that the defendants also imported produce infected by Salmonella Agona. Often called simply “Salmonella,” this pathogen is a potentially life-threatening infectious bacteria. On one occasion, after a shipment of nopal cactus (also known as prickly pear) tested positive for Salmonella,co-conspirator changed the description of the nopal cactus’ grower for subsequent shipments, for the purpose of evading future Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) inspections. Similarly, defendant Elizabeth Sandoval and Varela conspired to import Mexican snack foods that were mislabeled and adulterated with a prohibited dye. The remaining defendants named in the complaint are employees and agents of Customs brokers, wholesalers and transport companies who are alleged to have knowingly aided the conspiracy.

This case is being prosecuted in federal court in San Diego by Assistant United States Attorney Timothy C. Perry and is being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, and United States Customs and Border Protection, the Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. A complaint is a formal charging document and defendants are presumed innocent until the Government meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Source: US Department of Justice

 

US Customs – Testing new way to decrease border dwell-time for travellers

In an ongoing effort to reduce wait times at the International Bridge, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations will pilot a project to bring vehicles to the inspection booths in less time.
The stop signs will be placed in all three upper lanes and will shorten the “pull up” distance to the booth. This allows vehicles to queue up quicker. “Efficacy in movement is paramount to this project’s success. We are always trying to improve the flow of legitimate traffic while enforcing the laws of the United States,” said Patrick Wilson, CBP Sault Ste. Marie Assistant Port Director.

The Sault Ste Marie port of entry has a unique design that separates commercial traffic from car traffic, creating an upper and lower plaza. The focus of this project will be on the upper plaza only and will not affect the flow of traffic on the lower plaza.

Stop signs will be placed in all three upper lanes beginning Friday, April 20. The stop signs will shorten the “pull up” distance to the booth. This allows vehicles to queue up quicker. The stop signs will be placed near Radio Frequency Identification readers where the traveling public can display their Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative RFID-enabled document to pre-populate the officer’s computer screens.

CBP is testing the theory that they can process more travelers each hour by reducing the amount of time it takes each vehicle to get to the inspecting officer. This pilot project will incorporate a two-stop sign process. Upon entering the upper plaza, vehicles will be required to stop at the first existing stop sign. As the vehicle ahead clears, travelers will move to the next new stop sign and present their ID to the RFID reader. Once the vehicle at the inspection booth clears, travelers will proceed to the inspection booth.

Vehicles with trailers/campers are asked to use the lower plaza lanes so as not to impede the functionality of installed equipment. LED signage will be adjusted to notify motorists of this change.

CBP officers will direct traffic periodically during this project to help educate travelers on this new process. “We continue to look for efficiencies in our processes to improve the border crossing experience. If we can save a couple of seconds of inspection time per vehicle, the time savings should reduce each traveler’s wait,” said Assistant Port Director Wilson. Source: http://www.cbp.com