In a letter today to House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc. (NCBFAA) President Mary Jo Muoio expressed concern with a proposed provision in the Committee’s May 26 Discussion Draft of the Food Safety Enhancement Act relating to customs brokers. The areas of concern include provisions relating to registration, payment of an annual fee and greatly expanded penalty provisions.
‘These provisions surfaced only last week, were preceded by no consultation with our industry and, we are told, may go to Subcommittee mark-up next week,’ she said. Identifying the significant differences between the role of a customs broker and that of importers in the supply chain, President Muoio pointed out that ‘the committee’s draft treats customs brokers as if they are importers.’
Although there is an existing comprehensive and carefully crafted licensing and regulatory framework that governs all aspects of a customs broker’s business, she said ‘[T]he committee’s draft ignores this existing regulatory framework and attempts to erect a duplicate regulatory framework that distorts the role of the broker.’
Under the proposal, the customs broker, like the importer, is subject to fees and a mandatory registration that the Health and Human Services Secretary can suspend or cancel for an ‘inaccurate or incomplete statement or submission of information relating to the importation of food, drugs, or devices.’ In addition, the measure would subject the broker to a civil penalty of up to $500,000.
‘Lost in this provision is the fact that a customs broker must rely on the commercial documents and other information supplied by his client, the U.S. importer,’ she wrote. ‘And yet the committee’s draft holds the customs broker strictly liable for the importer-supplied information ’ with truly debilitating fines and consequences if the information turns out to be inaccurate in any respect.’
‘This is a serious flaw in the committee’s draft that must be addressed,’ she concluded. ‘The regulation of customs brokers needs to be in line with the realities of their role in international trade and, specifically, individual import transactions.’ (NCBFAA)