Members of the 16th term Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee, known as COAC, were recognized for their meaningful contributions when they gathered Wednesday for their last public meeting of the year in College Park, Maryland.
“The COAC advises U.S. Customs and Border Protection regarding regulations, policies or practices and provides critical feedback from the trade community on how these changes will impact the economy and global supply chain entities,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy A. Miller, who co-chaired the proceedings. “We understand that even small changes on our end can have a significant impact on trade. Millions of jobs rely on international trade, and we take both the health of the economy and economic security very seriously.”
“CBP enforces our laws to keep prohibited goods out of the U.S., so we need American businesses of all sizes, from the largest to the smallest, to understand how to comply,” said Miller. “We need the trade community to secure their supply chains against terrorism, health and safety risks, smuggling and forced labor. None of us can do this alone, which is why we work so hard with industry to provide education and guidance and to garner feedback.” Miller further underscored the trade advisory group’s importance, adding, “COAC and its extensive expertise helps CBP anticipate potential unintended consequences, understand different perspectives and identify new solutions to our challenges. This improves government efficiency and effectiveness, and we sincerely appreciate the considerable time and effort that COAC members contribute.”
Miller also highlighted key efforts that the agency is focusing on with the COAC. The first was the long-anticipated Border Interagency Executive Council Global Business Identifier initiative that will start piloting later this month in CBP’s cargo processing system, the Automated Commercial Environment, or ACE.
“This pilot allows volunteers from the trade community to provide CBP with entity identifier codes, used widely in various industries, to allow more comprehensive insight into shipper, seller and manufacturer data,” said Miller. The pilot will evaluate business identifiers or a combination of identifiers as a potential replacement for the current manufacturer/shipper identification, which has been in use for decades but only includes an importer’s name and address. Miller further explained that the new Global Business Identifier initiative offers the potential for CBP and other government partner agencies to have greater visibility into U.S. supply chains while enhancing CBP’s enforcement capabilities and facilitating clearance of fair and legal trade.
The commissioner also spoke about the continued progress of the 21st Century Customs Framework, a CBP initiative that addresses current and future trade challenges and modernization barriers. “The COAC 21st Century Customs Framework Task Force has played a key role throughout this initiative, bringing the private and public sectors together to identify customs modernization priorities that will better meet the needs of both the trade industry and federal government for decades to come,” said Miller. “The nature of international trade, including both opportunities and threats, has evolved since key customs statutes were last updated in 1993 and 2015. Modernizing our statutes will enable CBP to better enforce our laws to protect the health, safety and vitality of the American economy.”
Miller also discussed forced labor. He noted that CBP announced the agency’s latest withhold release order on November 23 against raw sugar and sugar-based products produced by Central Romana Corporation Limited in the Dominican Republic. “CBP investigated Central Romana Corporation and found several indicators of forced labor including abuse of vulnerability, isolation, withholding of wages, abusive living and working conditions, and excessive overtime,” said Miller. “CBP takes the fight against forced labor seriously and we will continue to be relentless in rooting out these heinous human rights violations from our supply chains.” With this withhold release order, CBP now oversees the enforcement of 55 withhold release orders and nine findings.
The implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was also discussed. “We recognize the challenges industry faces in navigating complex global supply chains, and CBP is here to work as a partner to help ensure the goods entering the country comply with U.S. trade laws,” said Miller. “We also know that the vast majority of companies are doing their best to comply with the new act and we want to work with you.”
Miller explained that this is the reason why CBP is providing even more information for companies. “We are currently developing an interactive tool to provide forced labor enforcement statistics on cbp.gov,” said Miller. “The dashboard will include data on the total number and value of entries identified and will even break this information down by industry. We will update the dashboard quarterly and expect to roll it out early next year.”
CBP also will be adding updated and interactive materials to the forced labor website pages on cbp.gov. This includes new Frequently Asked Questions and a user interface “chat bot” to guide users to relevant information. “Further, we are open to reviewing and providing feedback on documents provided by industry for admissibility packages,” said Miller, who advised members of the trade community to reach out to CBP’s industry Centers of Excellence for questions on this topic.
A new passenger air operations COAC working group was also announced at the meeting. “Through this working group, industry will have the opportunity to identify modernized passenger processing rules and regulations, streamline the passenger experience at U.S. ports of entry, and identify challenges that impact our operations,” said Miller. “We hope this working group can help CBP enhance air passenger operations and facilitate legitimate air travel in the years to come.”
Miller also spoke about the kickoff of CBP’s annual consumer awareness campaign for the holiday season, which encourages consumers to be on high alert. “We are in the heart of the holiday shopping season and educating consumers on the dangers posed by counterfeit goods is a key component of our trade strategy,” said Miller. “We know that the sale of pirated and counterfeit goods threatens law-abiding businesses as well as consumer health and safety, and we are committed to increasing awareness of this issue to protect industry trademarks.”
Tom West, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for tax policy, co-chaired the meeting and also shared his appreciation for the COAC. “I continue to be impressed by the breadth of what the COAC working groups cover here and the substantive recommendations that you all are able to come out with each quarter. It’s really helpful and critical to the process,” said West, who highlighted several initiatives as examples including the publication of the Customs Broker Modernization Regulations in October.
“This is a really important milestone. It was a successful joint DHS-Treasury and stakeholder effort that I hope aligned business practices to make better use of modern technology,” said West. “We know that CBP has had several outreach efforts to brokers and other stakeholders to ensure smooth implementation of the regulations later this month.”
The two final rules modernizing the customs broker regulations, which will go into effect on December 19, will eliminate district permits and transfer all licensed brokers to a national permit, allowing them to conduct customs business on a national level. The rules also will update responsible supervision and control requirements as well as modernize other broker regulations.
Trade co-chair Kathy Wilkins, the vice president of logistics consulting firm Alliance Operating Services, gave an overview on behalf of the COAC on some of the topics the subcommittees have been working on. “The Rapid Response Subcommittee has been aligning its working groups with CBP’s Trade Strategy 2020, which is aimed at modernizing the import/export process, improving trade intelligence and maximizing efficiencies,” said Wilkins. “These groups have been working quickly to navigate through the issues that affect both CBP and the trade community in identifying the synergies and the efficiencies. So, it has been a very productive quarter.”
The meeting also included updates on trade programs and COAC subcommittee work with 30 recommendations being presented and unanimously passed. Of these recommendations, three pertained to the 21st Century Customs Framework, 12 addressed in-bond issues, eight focused on intellectual property rights, four concerned forced labor, two dealt with export modernization and one was a recommendation regarding e-commerce.
The next public COAC meeting will be held on March 29, 2023.
COAC is a 20-member advisory committee that was established by Congress in 1987. The committee provides advice and recommendations to CBP and the Department of the Treasury on the commercial operations of CBP and trade-related interdepartmental functions. Some of the issues that COAC focuses on include enhanced border and supply chain security, international efforts to harmonize customs practices and procedures, import safety, compliance and modernization and automation processes used to facilitate trade.