The landscape for Import Compliance and Customs Management is redefined by the internet and new cloud based global commerce management systems. These changes enable the importer to align its management of the global supply chain with its own compliance programs and customs filing processes. What the new environment allows is the alignment of responsibility with action without the use of traditional intermediaries. The two main reasons for using a traditional customs broker, – the labor to manage a paper based and complex filing preparation and submission process – have been greatly diminished and the process made transparent. The result for the importer is direct e-filing at dramatically lower cost.
Today’s Best Practices allows the people with the best knowledge and understanding of their products (importers) to manage the regulatory and customs process with no more risk than using a traditional custom broker. What is necessary for an importer to implement the new Best Practice paradigm is confidence to actually control and manage the compliance and filing processes for which it is ultimately responsible.
So, what has changed the landscape for the redefinition of best practices in Import Compliance and Customs Management?
The internet has dramatically altered the landscape and changed the possibilities for the way importers interact with Customs and other regulatory agencies. The internet allows for solutions providers to create systems that enable importers to confidently take control of the heretofore unsupported functions that created the need for traditional freight forwarding and customs broker services.
Today Best Practices in Import Compliance and Customs Management are defined by the ability of the Importer to directly manage the entire process of importing products into the United States while being able to comply with all regulatory and CBP Customs requirements. Because the internet and new SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions provide a broad range of solutions – from specific TMS and Trade Compliance applications) to fully integrated import control, execution and reporting capability, best in class importers are taking control of the entire import compliance and customs management processes and driving incredible and previously unattainable value from their global supply chains.
9 Steps to executing a secure, independent Best Practice capability in Import Compliance and Customs Management
1) Establish management commitment – It is important to have management commitment to an import compliance program to establish its importance for the organization. Compliance, while important, often flies under management’s radar until there is a significant problem. In order to avoid being reactive to regulatory agencies it is important to create a set of policies or an explicit understanding that addresses CBP, Customs and other regulatory agencies issues. It is not enough to have management’s initial buy-in. Commitment implies a long-term commitment and support of the import compliance and customs management program.
2) Professional and well trained staff –The importance of a well trained staff that is familiar with import processes and customs procedures cannot be overstated. While having a licensed customs broker on staff is a benefit, it is not critical to implementing a best-in-class automated import compliance and customs management program. What is necessary is to be able to have trained people who understand the requirements surrounding the import environment and are able to deal with the professionals who interface with customs and other government agencies with respect to imports. Implement a centralized responsibility for import compliance and customs management with the full support of management. Because compliance issues have a way of becoming very problematic, high profile and expensive to resolve, a centralized authority and responsibility will mitigate the effects of problems where non-compliance might be an issue.
3) Create a set of policies and procedures – The global supply chain is very procedural and regulated. Therefore a best in class importers have in place policies and procedures governing import compliance and customs management. These policies and procedures should be published and made readily available to members of the import and customs staff. Most importantly, the procedures and policies should be managed to insure that they are implemented in practice.
4) Automate and centralize Product, Account and Customs Record management – Implement an automated infrastructure to capture and maintain all product, account and customs details in a data base structure. The ability to relate HTS codes to the product record in a database environment is necessary to support and streamline import workflow and execute import compliance and customs management at a high level of competence. (A concern among importers is their ability to properly classify their products. With the on-line customs solutions available today, the ability to classify a product is made much simpler. In instances where product classification is more complex special rulings might be required to classify a product properly and the on-line systems provide licensed customs brokers to support proper classification.) Relating product HTS codes and compliance details with the product and account record allows the import operator to execute their work, manage their 3rd parties and insure compliance effectively and with a very high level of confidence.
With a central repository for product, account and customs information, importers are able to:
Create and maintain a Customs and regulatory product record that captures the relationships of the product to HTS codes (General, Special Programs and rates (including Antidumping and Countervailing [ADD/CVD]), Country of Origin relationships, visa and license requirements).
Interface with internal systems and external information sources to capture landed product costs, supplier and logistics information necessary to provide data to support regulatory and customs filings as well as providing a comprehensive Procure-to-Pay product provenance capability.
5) Automate and integrate internal and external import processes – There are several solutions, both SaaS and Licensed models that automate and support seamless integration of the import processes from the purchase order to the receipt of product at the importers DC or customer. Automation streamlines import processes, finance, compliance and customs management by enforcing process while simplifying workflow. Automation of the internal import processes also provides the ability to easily interface to 3rd party partners information – including customs and other regulatory agencies – with the added benefit of further streamlining workflow, electronically capturing critical supply chain data, providing visibility into products across the supply chain, improving visibility into suppliers and other 3rd party partners, and providing a rich source of data for analysis and reporting on products and partners.
6) Automate Customs and Regulatory Filing Processes – Establish an e-filing capability with CBP Customs through on-line Customs Brokers or in-house ABI. Establish filing and payment profiles with CBP Customs – Importers can go on-line and quickly obtain an Importers filing code and ACH settlement code that comply with customs to support the electronic filing and settlement process. Today it is possible to generate electronic facsimiles of the 7501/3461 entry, ISF, and FDA Prior Notice messages that can be filed directly with customs without the intermediary of a traditional customs broker. The entries can be generated from the system, audited prior to submission, and filed with Customs when executed. The system automatically tracks the filing and provides visibility into the status of the entry and release.
7) Establish and maintain complete data records and document files of all import and customs transactions – Record maintenance is critical for import compliance and customs management. Automated import solutions assure accurate, searchable and retrievable records in data format is manageable and simple. The information that is maintained includes product details (supplier, manufacturer, product [packing lists, production codes]), carrier details (tracking dates, container numbers, B/L details), delivery receipt details, Customs entry information. This data records are augmented with the paper based files to insure responsiveness to Customs and Regulatory agency inquiries and audits.
8) Take Charge of Import Processes that you pay for – Taking charge of the import processes is made much more manageable today because of the global commerce technology that exists. However, it is not simply about the technology. A critical factor that makes taking charge of and managing the import processes possible is the integration of the systems which result in a completely synchronized information and document environment. Best in Class import organizations do very little, if any, of the physical work. However, they have systems which allow them to effectively manage those who do. Best in Class importers command the entire procure to pay environment from the time the purchase order is issued until it is received and paid for. This means integrating purchase order management, global transportation management, customs compliance and filing, total landed cost management, vendor invoice auditing and payment control into a cohesive solution that provides end-to-end visibility, tracking and alerting capabilities.
9) Benchmark your Performance – Benchmark yourself against the industry. Industry stats so that you can are available and for a modest fee you can obtain these from consulting organizations or your trade partners. However, most importantly it is necessary to benchmark yourself. This requires analysis tools and reports that let you see how your supply chain and your supply chain partners are performing period over period) and adjusting your organization to make continuous improvements.
Benefits of Implementing a Best Practices Environment for Import Compliance and Customs Control
The benefits that are achieved by implementing a best practices Import Compliance and Customs Control program range from the “hard” benefits – the ones that deliver real dollars, to the usual “soft” benefits that are harder to quantify.
The hard benefits are achieved as an outcome of implementing a comprehensive automated customs entry solution supported with automated global supply chain source data. The major hard benefit is the ability to fully automate the ISF and 3461/7501 customs filing processes that when implemented provide real savings that flow to the bottom line. Typically, a traditional customs broker charges between $25-$40 for an ISF filing and $80-$120 for a 3461/7501 customs entry. By automating the import compliance and customs management processes and integrating to an e-broker filing system the rates can drop as low as $5 for the ISF filing and $25 for the 3461/7501 customs entry. This savings for the combined automated ISF and 3461/7501 filing amounts to between $75-110 per filing. For a relatively average size importer – 500 entries per year the net savings can be ~$50,000. For a large importer the net savings can run into the millions of dollars.
The soft benefits are the ones that result in consistent and timely information presentation, improved supply chain visibility, streamlined business process, greater operational efficiency, improved inventory planning, replenishment and utilization, greater CBP and regulatory compliance management, and the development of internal core competencies. The soft benefits are the ones that every software solution claims will be achieved when the solution is implemented, but are hard to quantify and often not delivered for a variety of legitimate and practical reasons.