Customs Clearance Checklist

Port worker making notes on a tablet


Smooth customs clearance doesn’t just happen

These ideas can help you prevent “fire drills” and unnecessary kinks in your supply chain. If you have any questions, please contact one of our Trusted Advisor® experts.

  1. Review customs broker powers of attorney
    Once a year is certainly an appropriate cadence to review any U.S. customs powers of attorney (POAs) you have provided to your U.S. customs brokers, revisit those existing POAs (if you wish), and revoke any POAs for those U.S. customs brokers with whom you no longer wish to work. We recommend any POA you extend to your U.S. customs brokers have an expiration period, allowing all parties a time to revisit and review. When you request your Importer Trade Activity (ITRAC) data (see #11, below) or obtain data through your importer ACE portal, you can see all U.S. customs brokers who are transacting business on your behalf.

  2. Update names and addresses on file with U.S. Customs
    U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) selects the name/contact information that is on CBP Form 5106 to communicate with Importers of Record. Examples of communication from CBP are Requests for Information (CF 28), Notices of Action (CF 29), etc. If you have recently moved, or have not reviewed the information listed on CBP Form 5106 in a while, this is a good time to revalidate the information you have on file so you will not miss any pertinent or time-sensitive correspondences CBP may send your way.

  3. Ensure bond amount is sufficient
    Now is a great time to ensure that your bond amount is sufficient, which can be determined by your import activity over the last rolling 12-month period. If you have had a change in import activity, or anticipate a large increase in activity in the year to come, you will want to be sure that your bond is sufficient. CBP does have the right to determine if your bond is insufficient, and may reach out and require you to increase your bond amount, so it is always best to be proactive.

  4. Consider risks of listing multiple principals on the same bond
    Although having multiple entities on the same bond can bring cost savings, there are a few potential risks to consider.
    1. In particular, each entity shares liability if CBP issues a demand against the bond.
    2. In addition, if any entities on the bond terminate the bond, this can cause hiccups for the other entities within the bond. These are just a few of the things to think about when you consider listing multiple principals on the same bond.

  5. Check customs broker instructions
    Do you have customs broker instructions that you send to your U.S. customs brokers regularly? Examples of important topics covered within the instructions are Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification database, related party verification instruction, free trade agreement (FTA) instructions, partner government agency details/instructions, anti-dumping/countervailing duty instructions, etc. As your Trusted Advisor expert, we encourage you to provide us with instructions as to how you want your entries declared to CBP for these and many other topics.

  6. Request updated certificates of origin
    If you have not already done so, we highly recommend that you are proactive with your foreign suppliers to obtain updated annual blanket certificates of origin (COO) for any program in which you’d like to claim preference. It is also important that these blanket COOs are sent to us, as your U.S. customs broker, so that we have copies on file for our records. If you do not obtain your COOs in a timely fashion, your potential annual duty savings may be impacted.

  7. Update free trade agreement instructions
    As mentioned above, part of your customs broker instructions to us should have instructions pertaining to free trade agreements (FTAs) so that we, as your U.S. customs broker, have proper direction about how you would like us to file your entries that may be eligible for FTAs.

  8. Obtain your manufacturer’s affidavits
    If you utilize a U.S. goods return program, found under Heading 9801, you will want to be sure that you have also obtained your manufacturer’s affidavits for the coming calendar year. It is also recommended that these affidavits are (1) shared with your U.S. customs broker, and (2) recorded within your customs broker instructions.

  9. Review anti-dumping & countervailing duties products
    Anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVD) are considered high priority trade issues. In fact, since the enactment of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA), signed into law February 2016, there has been a heightened enforcement in AD/CVD. TFTEA provides CBP with the authority to investigate any potential AD/CVD evasion allegations.

    Because of this, if you are importing any goods that are subject to AD/CVD, it is important you keep your U.S. customs brokers informed via your customs broker instructions, to ensure the accurate case numbers, rates, etc. are shared and reported upon entry. Even if you are disclaiming AD/CVD on your entry, you will want to document your product details internally, explaining why your product does not fall within the scope of the order.

  10. Provide reconciliation flagging instructions to U.S. customs broker
    Are you a reconciliation participant? If so, it is worth noting that when reconciliation transitioned to the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) on February 24, 2018, CBP stopped applying blanket flags on their end. This means that flagging of entries is now the responsibility of the importer. We, as your U.S. customs broker, have the ability to blanket flag within our system. If you are a reconciliation participant, now is the time to send your U.S. customs broker written direction regarding any flagging instructions you would like established.

  11. Request ITRAC data one final time
    As an importer, it is important to command your supply chain. You should know what you are importing, the ports of entry through which you import, and the customs brokers you use. CBP retains records of each importer’s filed import activity. You have the right to request your government records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We believe that requesting your import information is the key to setting up an import compliance program or improving an existing one.

    Currently, Importer Trade Activity (ITRAC) data provides you with a wealth of information, including port of lading/unlading, country of origin, exams, entry date, special programs, and liquidation date. However, this will soon be replaced through the importer ACE portal reports. We highly encourage each importer to request their ITRAC data one final time before ACE reports become the default. CBP now offers the option of using an online payment option and receiving your data in an email attachment in as little as a day after payment. Learn more about how to use the online system.

    Once you have the raw customs ITRAC data, you can use Global Trade Reports®, a tool owned and offered by C.H. Robinson’s Trade Policy Division. Global Trade Reports will transform the way you see and understand the raw customs ITRAC data. With it, you can identify duty minimization opportunities, conduct customs compliance analysis, improve transit times, improve entry times, obtain compliance measurements, evaluate filer and carrier performance, and conduct forecasting and budgeting. The tool organizes the complex details of your customs activity into user-friendly dashboards, charts, graphs, and reports. It also acts as a diagnostic tool that transforms your customs data into a powerful information source.

    Global Trade Reports is available online through our customer portal. Our trade policy advisors can help you use the tool to its full potential. You can also obtain a complementary data analysis and expert advice on how to make your global supply chain more compliant and efficient. After the analysis, you will also receive a presentation that reinforces any areas of risk or concern to assist you in the evaluation of your import compliance program.

  12. Sign up for the ACE portal
    The ACE Secure Data Portal is another powerful way to manage your trade compliance program. If you have not signed up for the ACE Secure Data Portal, please contact one of our Trusted Advisor experts for help. This powerful tool enables you to receive paperless notifications from CBP, monitor your brokers, audit entries in real time, and much more.

  13. Request export census data
    Just as we recommend that you request your ITRAC data for import activity, we suggest that you request your Electronic Export Information (EEI) from the Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division. The U.S. principal party in interest (USPPI) is entitled to one year of EEI of data at no charge. Additional EEI will be provided at $125 per month. If you are the filer in the Automated Export System (AES) using the ACE Export Portal, you can create reports at any time to review the EEI on a regular basis. Having this information is an outstanding way to look for gaps in your export compliance program.

  14. Check U.S. Import Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification and export classification
    CBP periodically makes updates to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule throughout the year. Ensure you have the most accurate tariff number for your product by checking your HTS classification database and your export schedule B number database, and communicate any updates to proper stakeholders—both internally and externally. Staying up to date on HTS classifications will help you with other tariff relief programs (e.g., customs duty drawback, and tariff exclusions).

  15. Reduce liability with marine cargo insurance
    International steamship lines and air cargo providers have limited legal and financial responsibility for your international cargo. Did you know that a surprisingly wide variety of situations can eliminate their liability altogether? With a marine cargo insurance plan, you can reduce your company’s financial exposure and realize new efficiencies. C.H. Robinson can help you conduct a risk assessment of your shipping inquiries and offer marine cargo insurance that meets your specific needs.

  16. Protect trademark and trade names
    Make sure any and all of your trademarks and trade names are protected and recorded with CBP. This allows CBP to help you combat any potential counterfeit products or infringement. According to CBP's website, “The enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) is a CBP priority trade issue (PTI). PTIs represent high-risk areas that can cause significant revenue loss, harm the United States economy, or threaten the health and safety of the American people.” In the 2017 fiscal year, the most recent year for which data is available, CBP seized more than $1.2 billion worth of products that violated international property rights.

  17. Request manifest confidential treatment
    An importer or consignee may request confidential treatment of its name and addresses contained in manifests, as provided for in 19 CFR 103.31(3)(d). Additionally, the importer or consignee may also request confidential treatment of their shippers’ names and addresses for outbound (export) shipments. You can request confidential treatment of inward and outward manifest information, however, note that there are mandatory biannual renewal requirements. In addition, all possible variations of names should be accounted for within your request.

  18. Review your denied party screening program
    We suggest that you take time to review your denied parties screening program, which parties you are screening, and how often. This will ensure your program is appropriate for your current business model and bring to your attention any potential risks.

  19. Perform internal and external training
    We advise that you regularly schedule time to ensure adequate training is happening with appropriate stakeholders—both internal and external. This keeps all parties, especially new employees, up to date and abreast of any changes.

  20. Address priority trade issues
    According to CBP, “priority trade issues (PTIs) represent high-risk areas that can cause significant revenue loss, harm the U.S. economy, or threaten the health and safety of the American people.” Be sure that your compliance program addresses each one of these CBP initiatives.

We hope this list of important items will allow you to strengthen your trade compliance program, one check mark at a time. As always, we are here, as your Trusted Advisor experts, to help you with any questions or concerns and work with you to tighten your internal controls and minimize overall risk. Contact your C.H. Robinson customs and compliance team for more information.

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