Archives For Mutual Recognition

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The following article appeared on Maritime Executive’s webpage titled ‘Can C-TPAT be fixed?‘ authored by Stephen L. Caldwell (2017-07-18). The assessment reveals that Customs-Trade partnerships require continuous review and enhancement to retain their appeal and relevance – a significant challenge for customs and border authorities primarily focussed on compliance with the law. I have appended hyperlinks to the critic’s articles at the bottom of this post.

As the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism celebrates its fifteenth anniversary, it faces stagnant membership, software train wrecks, questionable assertions of benefits and a much- needed retooling to stay current.

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) is a voluntary security program started in the aftermath of 9/11. Member companies sign up and agree to maintain strong supply chain security. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff then validate members’ security practices to ensure they meet minimum criteria. Members are then eligible for benefits such as reduced likelihood that CBP will examine their shipments.

C-TPAT currently has about 11,500 members including importers, consolidators, sea carriers, port terminals and foreign manufacturers. Membership is segregated into three “Tiers” with Tier I representing companies that sign up, Tier II representing validated members, and Tier III representing companies with the highest demonstrated level of security.

The program grew rapidly in the beginning, reaching 1,500 members by 2002, 3,000 by 2003, 7,000 by 2004 and 10,000 by 2012. Given this growth, Congress wanted to make sure it was more than just a “sign- up sheet” and asked its watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), to monitor the program.

GAO’s July 2003 report found that, after companies signed up but before any validation process was completed, CBP went ahead and provided benefits by reducing their scores in its risk algorithm. By May 2003, for example, there were 3,355 members receiving benefits but only 15 had been validated. It took a couple of years to work down the backlog.

Even then, GAO’s March 2005 report found the validation process was not rigorous enough to ensure that a company’s security practices were reliable, accurate and effective. Its 2008 report found that CBP still faced challenges in verifying that C-TPAT members met minimum security criteria. It also found that CPB’s records management system did not allow managers to determine whether C-TPAT members complied with program requirements.

Midlife Crisis

Michael Laden, head of customs compliance firm Trade Innovations in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, has been helping industry clients with C-TPAT since 2005. Laden has been a licensed customs broker since 1981 and served as Director of Global Trade Services at Target Corporation prior to founding his own firm. He believes that C-TPAT is having a midlife crisis: “The stagnation of membership levels in the 10,000-12,000 range is an indication that industry has lost its appetite for C-TPAT.” He cites a problematic history of revolving short-term leadership as part of the problem.

Laden says the program reached its nadir with the August 2015 release of the much-anticipated Portal 2.0 software, designed to further automate the validation process. “The release was rushed into service with limited capabilities and minimal pre-testing,” he explains. “It was a complete train wreck. The data from the previous version just disappeared. In some cases, not only did the data disappear but the company disappeared too.”

The problems with Portal 2.0 were documented in GAO’s most recent report of February 2017, which found that Portal 2.0 incorrectly altered C-TPAT members’ certifications or security profiles, impairing the ability of C-TPAT specialists to identify and complete required security validations. Portal 2.0 problems also prevented C-TPAT members from accessing their own data and responding to validation reports.

Since C-TPAT was presented as a partnership with CBP benefiting from its knowledge of member companies’ security practices and companies benefiting from reduced scrutiny of their shipments, CBP in 2012 developed a software “Dashboard” to track such benefits. It used the Dashboard in its Program Benefits Reference Guide to assert that entries filed by C-TPAT members were less likely to undergo a security examination than those filed by non-members. Tier III members, for example, were nine times less likely to be examined, and Tier II members 3.5 times less likely.

However, the February 2017 GAO analysis found that C-TPAT members’ shipments did not consistently experience lower examinations, hold rates or processing times compared to non-member shipments. When GAO shared its preliminary analysis with C-TPAT officials, they acknowledged that they had never completed system verification, acceptance-testing, or checks on the data in the Dashboard. GAO’s conclusion was that the data was unreliable going back to the Dashboard’s introduction in 2012, and CBP to this day remains unable to determine the benefits of C-TPAT membership.

Industry Finds Its Own Solutions  

While industry was anxious for definitive information on membership benefits, it decided to find its own solutions to some of the costs. One key cost involves security audits of the supply chain, particularly in foreign countries. Shippers and importers got together and created the Supplier Compliance Audit Network (SCAN) to address costs, “audit fatigue,” inconsistent reporting and varying compliance requirements.

Companies pay a sliding fee to become part of SCAN, where they can commission audits and get access to completed audits, which could obviate the need for a new audit of a particular supplier. In 2016, SCAN completed more than 3,379 audits in 51 countries. Its board of directors represents some of the largest importers in the U.S., and its audits are conducted by proven service providers such as Bureau Veritas and business standards company BSI.

Dan Purtell, Senior Vice President of 30 BSI’s Supply Chain Solutions Group, says, “SCAN members clearly see the benefit of the C-TPAT program. These companies are the ‘who’s who’ of the Tier III C-TPAT community and truly are the supply chain security thought-leaders within the private sector. Member companies compete on the shelf but unite to secure trade, mitigate supply chain risk, and identify and correct security deficiencies.”

Purtell notes that “More than 15,000 such deficiencies have been remedied by SCAN since its inception just two years ago. No other association has done more to address global supply chain exposures.”

Next Steps

Despite problems, there are signs of improvement according to Trade Innovations’ Laden, starting with the decision by the last CBP Commissioner to make the Director of C-TPAT a more permanent position. “This should add continuity to the leadership of the program,” he explains, “allowing it to reach its true potential.” Laden also praises the new Director, Elizabeth Schmelzinger, for her openness to listen to industry.

“We’re retooling the program so that it stays current,” says Schmelzinger. “There are a lot of factors that have changed over the years. We want to make sure the minimum standards are still relevant.” CBP had enlisted its industry-based Commercial Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) to help it validate those minimum standards and develop C-TPAT best practices with the results to be announced at COAC’s March 1 meeting in Washington, DC. However, it was announced at the meeting that the results had been delayed to “make sure they get it right.”

When asked whether the intent of revisiting the minimum standards was to increase membership, Schmelzinger responded: “C-TPAT’s standards remain high. It’s not all about joining the program. We also suspend companies and remove them from the program. So, there is a constant churn in membership.”

She also described the evolving roles of C-TPAT and CBP’s newer Trusted Trader program, noting that “C-TPAT was foundational to any Trusted Trader status.” In other words, the first element of a Trusted Trader program was to ensure security. Then the elements of compliance with rules and regulations would be taken into consideration.

Ultimately, C-TPAT and Trusted Trader would transition into a global safety net whereby low-risk importers and exporters would have their goods expedited through customs processes in both the U.S. and its trading partners.

AEOs and Mutual Recognition

In international parlance, security partnership arrangements like C-TPAT are called Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programs. The U.N. reported that, as of 2016, some 79 countries had established AEO programs and an additional 16 planned to launch such programs in the near future. The E.U., consisting of 28 countries, has the largest program, and its Union Customs Code of 2013 aims to, among other things, reinforce swifter customs procedures for compliant AEOs.

Many countries with AEO programs, including the U.S. with its C-TPAT, have signed “mutual recognition agreements” whereby two countries’ customs administrations agree to recognize the AEO authorization issued under the other’s program and provide reciprocal benefits to companies. As of May 2016, some 40 bilateral agreements had been concluded with 30 more being negotiated. According to the U.N., these bilateral agreements will form the basis for multilateral agreements. To date, the U.S. has signed 11 agreements with, among others, the E.U., Canada, Mexico, Japan and Korea.

C-TPAT Director Schmelzinger adds that “We are also restructuring the program to include exports so that it is more in line with the structure of other countries’ AEO programs. As part of our agreements with countries that have AEO programs, those countries will honor a commitment to our exporters who are low- risk. This will help U.S. exporters establish a foothold in those markets.”

One Step at a Time

Michael Laden is more skeptical of mutual recognition, calling it a “noble gesture” but adding there will be little enthusiasm from industry. Most of his clients are importers and will not get any benefit from the new export component.

Regarding exporters, he says that “Since CBP so rarely examines exports, the usual benefit offered by C-TPAT membership does not exist for that part of industry.” In Laden’s view, “Let’s fix C-TPAT before we move on to harmonize customs security and compliance throughout the world.”    Source: Maritime-Executive

Recommended reading –

 

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AEO-LogoHere follows an appreciation of AEO within the context of the EU. According to KGH customs consultancy services, being an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) already entails advantages for companies that have invested in doing the work to gain the AEO certification. With the new Union Customs Code (UCC), companies with an AEO permit will be able to gain additional advantages leading to more predictable and efficient logistics flows as well as an increased competitive edge.

Centralised clearance (being able to clear all customs declarations from one central location in the EU) and self-assessment (self-declaration of custom fees, similar to VAT reporting) are two new possibilities under UCC that will be implemented towards the end of the initial UCC implementation period from 1 May 2016 to 31 December 2020. To take advantage of these, AEO will be a prerequisite. AEO-ready businesses will therefore be well positioned to take advantage of these new possibilities when they become available.

Direct AEO benefits, including fewer physical and document-based controls, pre-notification in case of controls, easier access to customs simplifications and other customs authorisations, as well as access to mutual recognition with third countries, will continue to apply under UCC. The same is true of the soft benefits, such as better cross-functional communication and cooperation, improved customs knowledge and better risk management, which often outweigh the direct benefits as detailed by customs authorities.

With the UCC, AEO becomes a permit (authorisation) and all AEO certifications will have to be reviewed in line with the new UCC guidelines. Much is recognisable from before, but there is an additional competency requirement that is realised through either experience and/or professional qualifications. There is also likely to be more focus on ensuring that AEO applicants have robust routines that reflect their business, and that those routines are known in the business and used on a day-to-day basis.

Ever since the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) certification was launched in 2008, many companies have been trying to evaluate whether to go for AEO or not. What are the benefits? How long does it take to become certified? Can we do it ourselves or do we need some help? What do we really gain by being AEO? This has sometimes stopped companies taking active steps to get ready for AEO.

Furthermore, some AEO-certified companies have felt that they have been exposed to more controls after AEO certification than before. In other instances the initial certification was fairly easy to achieve, but it then proved much harder to retain at a subsequent audit because routines were not being kept up to date or there had been insufficient internal controls and reviews performed in the business.

Our experience shows that companies that did a thorough job at the time of certification and that also afterwards had a genuine focus on maintaining knowledge, following routines and updating documentation as and when appropriate, have been able to benefit from improved customs management to a greater extent than they first envisaged.

KGH opines there are six situations where being AEO could be beneficial for a company:

  • Freight forwarder serving customers with logistics flows to and from the EU.
  • Strong business links with countries where the EU either has mutual recognition or is likely to have it in the not too distant future.
  • Businesses with many permits that will be reconsidered as part of the transition to UCC, where being AEO may facilitate the reconsideration process for other customs permits.
  • Large customs guarantee, which may be able to be reduced as a result of being an AEO.
  • Interested in centralised clearance and self-assessment that will be introduced towards the end of the UCC implementation period.
  • Interested in raising customs knowledge in a business, in order to better manage risks and be able to take advantage of business opportunities connected with international trade.

Here AEO can also be seen as a seal of quality. Source: kghcustoms.com

Director-General of Singapore Customs Fong Yong Kian and Vice Minister of the General Administration of China Customs Sun Yibiao (both seated), signed the China-Singapore MRA at the WCO Council Sessions in June 2012. The signing was witnessed by Chairperson of the WCO Council and Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners of Ireland, Josephine Feehily and WCO Secretary-General   Kunio Mikuriya.

Director-General of Singapore Customs Fong Yong Kian and Vice Minister of the General Administration of China Customs Sun Yibiao (both seated), signed the China-Singapore MRA at the WCO Council Sessions in June 2012. The signing was witnessed by Chairperson of the WCO Council and Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners of Ireland, Josephine Feehily and WCO Secretary-General Kunio Mikuriya.

General Administration of Customs of Singapore has announced that the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA), signed with Customs of the People’s Republic of China went into effect on March 15, 2013.  Following the effective date, both Singapore’s STP-Plus companies and China’s Class AA accredited companies will be recognized as Authorized Economic Operators (AEOs) of the respective countries.

This recognition as AEOs allows Customs from both countries to grant clearance facilitation for accredited AEOs such as lower examination rates, priority inspections, and priority handling of customs clearance documents at each country’s port.  Included in the announcement were specific instructions for how importers in both Singapore and China should fill out customs forms when receiving exported goods from one of their respective AEOs.

For goods exported directly to Singapore from a Chinese Class AA company, the Chinese exporter would need to provide the Singapore importer with the 10-digit Customs Registration Code to place on their import declarations to Singapore along with inputting the “AEO code” into the portal for mutual recognition purposes and benefits of AEO.  The AEO code is comprised of “AEO”, “CN” and the 10-digit Customs Registration Code.

For goods exported to China from a Singapore STP-Plus company, the Chinese importer must fill in the “AEO code” of the Singapore’s exporter in the “remark column” in their import declarations to receive mutual recognition benefits.  The format for the AEO code is as follows:  “AEO (written in English half-width characters and capital letters)” plus “<” plus “SG” plus “12-digit AEO code” plus “>”.  For instance, if the AEO code of one Singapore STP-Plus company is AEOSG123456789012, then the remark column filled in by the Chinese importer would read as “AEO”.

The MRA signed between China and Singapore is but one example of several security programs in different countries making it easier for trusted traders to move goods through the supply chain. Other countries that also participate in MRAs include:

  • US Customs & Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) which has MRAs in place with Canada’s Partners in Protection (PIP), New Zealand’s Secure Export Scheme Program (SES), Jordan’s Golden List Program (GLP), Japan’s Authorized Economic Operator Program (AEO), Korea’s AEO, and the European Union’s ( EU) AEO
  • European Union (EU) AEO which has MRAs in place with Canada’s PIP, Japan’s AEO, Australia’s AEO, New Zealand’s SES, and US C-TPAT
  • Japan Customs has MRAs in place with New Zealand’s SES, EU’s AEO, Canada’s PIP, Korea’s AEO, and Singapore’s STP-Plus
  • Singapore Customs has signed MRAs in place with Canada’s PIP, Korea’s AEO, Japan’s AEO, and China’s Class AA

Part of participating in any security program is the ability to assess and manage risk across the supply chain.  This includes soliciting and analysing information received from every partner within the supply chain to corrective actions and best practices.  While are security programs are still voluntary in nature, companies that take advantage of them are reaping benefits such as faster customs clearance and less inspections. Source: Integration Point

4209_image002January, 2013 saw the United States and the European Union implemented the mutual recognition arrangement for their respective supply chain security programmes. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) administers the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which is now recognised as equivalent to the European Union’s Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programme.

Should they elect to allow CBP to share certain information with the European Union, US importers authorised under C-TPAT will be considered secure and their exports will receive a lower-risk score by the customs administrations of EU member states. In practice, certification translates into time and money savings for parties dealing with trusted operators. In that sense, certified operators are successfully marketing their status as a distinguishing competitive advantage.

Both programmes are voluntary, security-based programmes aimed at improving supply chain security. As programme members, importers receive lower risk-assessment scores in customs administrations’ computer targeting software. Therefore, members are subject to fewer security-related inspections and controls. The mutual recognition arrangement between the United States and the European Union allows for members of one programme to receive reciprocal benefits when exporting to the other jurisdiction.

However, not all C-TPAT members qualify for full AEO benefits. Only Tiers 2 and 3 C-TPAT importers (considered as more secure) may receive a lower risk-assessment score, and consequently undergo fewer inspections when exporting to an EU member state. In addition, in order to receive these benefits, C-TPAT members must expressly elect for the United States to share certain information with the European Union and certify that their exports meet all applicable requirements.

The mutual recognition arrangement may also exempt members’ facilities from undergoing validation site visits by both administrations when initially being certified or during revalidation visits. This benefit is available for every tier of C-TPAT membership.

The mutual recognition arrangement applies only to C-TPAT importers which also act as exporters. A C-TPAT manufacturer will benefit from the arrangement only if it also acts as the US exporter. For example, if a US company owns a C-TPAT-certified manufacturer in Mexico that directly ships merchandise to the European Union, those shipments will not benefit from the arrangement.

CBP’s targeting system recognises AEO-certified entities by their manufacturer identification number. Certified manufacturers will receive benefits under the arrangement regardless of whether they are the EU exporter. A certified exporter which is not a manufacturer may obtain a manufacturer identification number to gain from the benefits of mutual recognition. As such, AEO-certified manufacturers and exporters may benefit under the arrangement, but only US exporters are eligible for benefits.

Although the United States and the European Union have recently announced the possibility of a US-EU free trade agreement, this arrangement is a trade facilitation measure that companies may elect to participate in immediately, regardless of the results of potential free trade agreement negotiations.

The United States also has mutual recognition arrangements for supply chain security with Canada, Japan, Jordan, Korea, New Zealand and Taiwan. Source:  Sidley Austin LLP, and The International Law Office

Authorised Economic Operators (AEO), a scheme focusing on compliant companies to facilitate trade starts before the year ends. The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Public and Corporate Affairs Assistant Commissioner Sarah Banage recently disclosed that AEO is meant to enhance compliance “by removing barriers for the most complaint taxpayer”.

“Under the scheme, the benefit of being complaint will be red-carpet treatment offered by URA,” she stated, adding, “we want to demonstrate that there are rewards for being compliant.” Banage cited electronic submission of declaration without supporting documents, pre-arrival clearance of cargo, and self-management of bonded warehouses as some of the benefits. Others are: priority treatment when cargo is selected for control, choosing the place for examination, automatic renewal of licences and withholding tax exemption status.

Because the relationship between URA and its clients is “symbiotic”, it is expected that there will be an increase in taxes, Banage argued. Potential beneficiaries of AEO are: agents, importers, exporters, shippers, internal container depot operators, and others involved in international shipment of goods, among others.

To be eligible, Banage said, one should be involved in international trade, have a good compliance history, be financially sound, install and use customs automated systems like e-tax and should implement the AEO compliance programme. To be authorized, companies/organizations will apply to the commissioner, after which a preliminary consultation is done.

“We will then determine who should formally apply. Officials will adjudicate submitted documents before a site is inspected to ensure compliance with guidelines,” she said. Subsequently, a one-year certificate will be issued.

“An AEO is an individual, a business entity or a government department that is involved in international trade and is duly authorized by the Commissioner of Customs of Uganda Revenue Authority.”

Banage said that implementing AEO does not only have short-term results but also resultant long-term benefits to the business community. These include reduction of the cost of doing business and increased turnover over time, among others. In the middle of April, customs officials held a breakfast meeting at Serena hotel, Kampala where Chief Executive Officers of major organizations were sensitized about the plan.

Later, customs officials interacted with personnel of the Auditor General, Export Promotion Board, the Trade, Industry and Cooperatives ministry, the Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries ministry and Uganda National Bureau of Standards. Also at Serena, it was meant to “share with them the programme in order to capture their ideas,” according to Banage.

Weeks ago, URA asked companies to express interest in joining the scheme. Over 20 organizations applied and are currently involved in talks expected to culminate in attaining AEO status. “Admission to the scheme will depend on how the companies implement the compliance programme. By December, some companies should be authorized,” Banage added. Among others, those expected to benefit from the first phase are importers, clearing agents and transporters.

Regarding the East African Community (EAC), customs administrators have adopted an AEO policy framework. It was adopted in 2010 as a basis for implementing trade facilitation initiatives that drive economic development for the EAC. Under AEO’s mutual recognition arrangement, a government formally recognizes the AEO programme of another country, thereby granting benefits to the AEOs of that country. Under a regional project, companies in the five countries receive benefits related to the scheme. Among the benefits is priority treatment at customs points. Source: The Observer (Kampala) 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the European Union (EU) signed today a Mutual Recognition Decision between CBP’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program and the EU’s Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar and European Union Taxation and Customs Union Directorate Director-General Heinz Zourek sign the Mutual Recognition Decision between CBP’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program and the EU’s Authorized Economic Operator Program.

CBP Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar and Director-General Heinz Zourek, European Union Taxation and Customs Union Directorate (TAXUD) signed the decision, which recognizes compatibility between the EU and the U.S. cargo security programs.

“Today’s decision on the mutual recognition of the EU and U.S. trade partnership programmes is a win-win achievement: It will save time and money for trusted operators on both sides of the Atlantic while it will allow customs authorities to concentrate their resources on risky consignments and better facilitate legitimate trade,” said Director-General Zourek.

C-TPAT is a voluntary government-business initiative to build cooperative relationships that strengthen and improve overall international supply chain and U.S. border security. C-TPAT recognized that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can provide the highest level of cargo security only through close cooperation with the ultimate owners of the international supply chain such as importers, carriers, consolidators, licensed customs brokers, and manufacturers. Source: US CBP

Related article

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the European Union Taxation and Customs Union Directorate (TAXUD) have agreed to language for the U.S.-EU Mutual Recognition Decision today which will lead to its signing in the Spring of 2012. Once signed, the Mutual Recognition Decision will recognize the respective trade partnership programs of the U.S. and the EU—CBP’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and the EU’s Authorized Economic Operator (AEO)—with reciprocal benefits.

In 2007, CBP and TAXUD initiated efforts to implement Mutual Recognition between C-TPAT and AEO. Mutual Recognition is an industry partnership program that creates a unified and sustainable security posture that can assist in securing and facilitating global cargo trade. Upon achieving mutual recognition with a foreign partner, one program may recognize the validation findings of the other program.

C-TPAT is a voluntary government-business initiative to build cooperative relationships that strengthen and improve overall international supply chain and U.S. border security. C-TPAT recognizes that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can provide the highest level of cargo security only through close cooperation with the ultimate owners of the international supply chain such as importers, carriers, consolidators, licensed customs brokers, and manufacturers. CBP currently has mutual recognition with: New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Korea and Jordan. Source: USCBP

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