By James Sawyer and Beata K. Spuhler

On April 4, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced, via the Federal Register, that it will be modifying and expanding its Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CEEs).  Building on its August 28, 2012, Federal Register publication, CBP announced it will open six new CEEs for the following industries: Agriculture & Prepared Products (Miami); Apparel, Footwear & Textiles (San Francisco); Base Metals (Chicago); Consumer Products & Mass Merchandising (Atlanta); Industrial and Manufacturing (Buffalo); and Machinery (Laredo).  CBP also expanded its regulations pertaining to CEEs.

In October 2011, CBP established the first two CEEs for the Electronics and Pharmaceuticals, Health & Chemicals industries.  With these CEEs, CBP hoped to facilitate trade, reduce transactions costs, increase compliance with applicable import laws, and achieve uniformity of treatment at the ports of entry for the identified industries.  The first two CEEs were staffed with employees who facilitated trade by providing account management for Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) members in their respective industries.  The CBP employees engaged in risk segmentation, trade outreach and had the ability to review entries.  The CEE Directors made entry processing recommendations to the Port Directors concerning entries filed by the entities participating in their CEEs.

Due to the success of these first two CEEs, CBP announced in May 2012 that it would be opening two additional CEEs to facilitate entries for the Automotive & Aerospace and the Petroleum, Natural Gas & Minerals industries.  In August 2012, CBP announced a test to broaden the ability of the four CEEs to make decisions by waiving certain regulations to allow CEE Directors the authority to make decisions normally reserved for Port Directors.  CBP invited all businesses who met the eligibility criteria set forth in the announcement to apply for the test, including C-TPAT and ISA members.

CBP is now expanding the test to include the new CEEs. CBP is also expanding the list of regulations that will be waived with the hope that resting broad decision-making authority within the CEEs will better enable the centers to achieve CBP’s above-listed goals.  Specifically, when CEE participants file an entry in a port, the entry documents will be routed to the relevant CEE, with the CEE Director performing the following functions in lieu of the Port Director:

  • Making determinations, notifications and processing concerning duty refund claims under 19 U.S.C. § 1520(d);

  • Processing waivers of invoice requirements;

  • Handling requests for computed value information;

  • Making determinations concerning the time of submission for all entry summaries and estimated duties;

  • Issuing all Requests for Information (CF 28s) and Notices of Action (CF 29s);

  • Notifying and processing requests concerning any commingling of merchandise;

  • Processing requests to apply a computed value method of appraisement;

  • Handling requests for extension and suspension of liquidation;

  • Reviewing and correcting errors in transactions; and

  • Reviewing and acting on protests.

In addition, CBP has stated that it will allow test participants to file prior disclosures either with their designated CEE or the port of entry. However, test participants are required to submit the following documents directly to their respective CEE:

  • Protests;

  • Requests for internal advice;

  • Responses to Requests for Information (CF 28s) or Notices of Action (CF 29s);

  • Requests for entry cancellations; and

  • Rejected ACS entry summaries.

Any importer who has an ACE account and is part of the relevant industry, with the highest percentage of its entries comprising merchandise falling within the industry of the specific CEE, may apply to participate in the industry CEE. However, importers may only apply for the CEE of the industry in which they have the highest percentage of goods entered, and if they are accepted, will have that CEE manage all of their entries.

The application process itself consists simply of a letter to CBP through U.S. mail or e-mail detailing the name and contact information of the importer, the importer’s industry, its IOR number and the desire to participate in the CEE.

In the initial phase of the test for the new CEEs, “CBP will be giving priority consideration to importers enrolled in the C-TPAT Program as Tier 2 or Tier 3 members, and to members of the ISA program,”[1] as it has done with the existing CEEs.[2]  However, once the ISA and C-TPAT members have been accepted into the CEE, other importers falling within the scope of the particular CEE will also be invited to participate, with CBP’s anticipated future goal being that all importers be associated with a particular CEE.

For the Base Metals CEE, the Industrial & Manufacturing Materials CEE, and the Machinery CEE, applications may be submitted beginning April 4, 2013 for the duration of the test (three years from July 3, 2013), and selection of participants will begin no later than May 6, 2013.  For the Agriculture & Prepared Products CEE, the Apparel, Footwear & Textiles CEE, and the Consumer & Mass Merchandising CEE, applications may be submitted beginning June 3, 2013, for the duration of the test (three years from July 3, 2013), and selection of participants will begin no later than July 3, 2013.  For the four initial CEEs, importers may continue to submit applications for the duration of the test as well.



[1]  CBP has informally indicated that acceptance to the CEEs will occur in incremental steps.  First priority will be given to companies who are C-TPAT certified and ISA members, with second priority given to companies who are C-TPAT certified, but NOT ISA members.  Finally, all other companies would be considered for participation.

[2]  Based upon CBP’s FR notice dated October 5, 2012, importers who have undergone a Focused Assessment audit and been considered an acceptable risk can apply to become ISA members without additional scrutiny from the agency.  The ISA acceptance would provide the importer with preferential status concerning acceptance into the applicable CEE.  

 

Source: Client Alert