East Coast Trade Symposium Promotes Partnerships
After escaping the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, the trade community gathered in National Harbor, Md., this week for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's 2012 East Coast Trade Symposium on November 27-28. The event, Expanding 21st Century Global Partnerships, which drew more than 900 attendees, was rescheduled when the violent storm pummeled the eastern half of the U.S. a few weeks ago.
"We're all grateful for your presence here this morning. We realize the hardship that was caused by the postponement of the October symposium," said CBP Deputy Commissioner David V. Aguilar, who welcomed a crowded audience Tuesday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
The two-day symposium focused on the strength of partnerships - how they can be forged across the government, with business, and around the world to facilitate trade and create a more secure global supply chain. Aguilar told the audience that CBP has been able to move forward with a number of substantive initiatives because of the partnerships it has formed and the new and modern approaches the agency has embraced.
"This symposium and our transformation efforts are not just about encouraging words or pilot programs that soon burn out," he said. "This is about building better commercial borders that assure safety, security, fair play, coordinated processing, and a comprehensive understanding of the current and emerging needs of the trade community."
Aguilar stressed that this cannot be accomplished overnight. "We have set high targets," he said. "Should we take the safe and easy path, the benefits to you, the trade, to CBP and DHS, to American businesses and the American people will not be maximized. We want our trade processes to be the envy of the world because we made the effort and took the time to build the relationships, the expertise to create a culture of success and constant improvement."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the event's keynote speaker, carried the theme. "This year, CBP will facilitate about $2 trillion in trade while enforcing United States trade laws that protect the economy, and the health and safety of the American people," said Napolitano. "We can't do that without strong partnerships with industry at all levels and partnerships with our fellow government agencies across the administration. These types of public-private partnerships are integral to growing our economy because they help us develop more innovative, and hopefully, more efficient processes to expedite trade while ensuring the security of the global supply chain."
During his remarks, Aguilar made several major announcements. The first was the creation of six new Centers of Excellence and Expertise. The centers, which made their debut last year, are at the heart of the sweeping changes the agency is currently undergoing to modernize its trade processing procedures. Operating on a national scale, the centers are the primary point of processing for participating importers within a specific industry. While they are virtual in nature, the centers are led by personnel at key locations. Current active centers focus on electronics; pharmaceuticals; automotive and aerospace; and the petroleum, natural gas, and minerals industries.
Aguilar revealed that the six new centers will be as follows: agriculture and prepared products in Miami; apparel, footwear, and textiles in San Francisco; base metals in Chicago; consumer products and mass merchandising in Atlanta; industrial and manufacturing materials in Buffalo, N.Y.; and machinery in Laredo, Texas. All six of the centers are planned to be operational during the 2013 calendar year.
Aguilar also announced that the agency is working to improve and expand its voluntary supply chain security program known as C-TPAT or the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. The program, which has focused on imports, will now extend to exports. As part of a mutual recognition program with the United States, Japan will be the first country to recognize certain C-TPAT members, who export goods to Japan, as trusted shippers. "We expect this enhanced export process will lead to significant savings for some of our members," said Aguilar.
The deputy commissioner's final announcement pertained to a new mutual recognition agreement with Taiwan Customs. "I am happy to announce that just yesterday I signed a mutual recognition agreement with Taiwan Customs and we're working closely with each other to maximize the benefits to our supply chain security program members," he said. To date, CBP has signed seven mutual recognition agreements with partner nations. The other agreements are with New Zealand, Jordan, Canada, Korea, Japan, and the European Union.
The symposium's agenda also featured notable speakers such as U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade. Brady, who spoke at the symposium luncheon, shared his views on America's leadership on the world stage. "The bottom line is we have an opportunity to lead on trade. It's critical to the economy and critical for America's leadership and economic position throughout the 21st century," he said. "Trade creates jobs. America is made for trade. The world has changed. It's not simply buy American anymore. We have to sell American throughout the world."
Partnerships with governments, other government agencies, and the private sector were highlighted in the symposium's general sessions. Luc Portelance, president of the Canada Border Services Agency, participated in a panel discussion on Beyond the Border, a shared approach to security, trade, and travel initiatives between the U.S. and Canada. Another session on a One U.S. Government Approach to Import Safety included representatives from member agencies of the Border Interagency Executive Council. Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were all featured.
A number of breakout sessions were held on the second day of the Trade Symposium. One of the most popular sessions was on CBP's trusted trader programs. "We want to make our partnership programs much more accessible to the small- and medium-size companies," said Dan Baldwin, CBP's executive director of cargo and conveyance security, who moderated the panel discussion. "We are taking a more reasoned approach on how to validate a company's compliance level. There is every reason to believe a small company is just as responsible and deserving of our trust as the large corporations."
Another panel discussion focused on trade intelligence. "Trade intelligence is really something that both CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, have been doing informally for years. It's just communication with private industry that's involved with importing and exporting. They tell us what they're seeing that may be fraudulent so we can focus our enforcement efforts," said John Leonard, the acting executive director of CBP's trade policy and programs division, who led the discussion. "In the past, trade intelligence was done one-on-one at a port or here at headquarters, but now, we're formalizing it a bit more and saying, 'Hey trade, this is what we're doing. Help us with this.' It's more of an organized effort to stop fraud."
One of the panelists, Cass Johnson, the president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, the largest domestic textile association in the U.S., has encouraged his members to assist with trade intelligence. "Ten years ago, we despaired that CBP had lost its fraud focus. But in the last couple of years, we've seen a change at CBP. They've shifted their focus and want to do more fraud investigations and more fraud interdiction," said Johnson. "We're responding by increasing our ties at the mill level with CBP and ICE. We're very anxious to reengage and help them interdict fraud to save jobs and save textile production in this country."
The symposium also included a town hall style meeting where audience members posed questions to CBP's senior officials. "When we meet with the trade community in a forum such as this, it's highly beneficial," said Allen Gina, assistant commissioner of CBP's Office of International Trade. "It helps us better understand the trade perspective and how our agenda can truly support the country's economic well-being."
For the trade community, the event is an opportunity to establish a partnership with CBP. "I came here primarily to get information about the C-TPAT program because my company currently is not a C-TPAT member and we're discussing moving in that direction," said first time attendee, Veronica Miller, director of global compliance for fashion design firm, Michael Kors. "I also thought it was important for us to be part of ACE. I had so many frustrations with the online tutorial that I just stopped using it," said Miller. "Someone from CBP reset my password and gave me a bit of help, so I'm optimistic. I'm going to go back and try it again."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.