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CBP Offers Details on Potential Continuing Education Requirement for Brokers

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is continuing to advance its Role of the Broker initiative, which seeks to meaningfully transform the relationship between CBP and customs brokers by recognizing their role as a communicator and force multiplier to increase compliance. As one part of this initiative CBP will soon conduct a test in which up to nine brokers will be able to pre-certify importers for participation in the Importer Self-Assessment program. The other major part of this initiative is a rewrite of the customs broker regulations in 19 CFR Part 111 to (a) clarify brokers’ responsibilities related to importer validation and provide greater visibility of importers, (b) align with current electronic capabilities and business practices, (c) reinforce the broker’s responsibility to exercise due diligence in conducting business and (d) “professionalize” the customs broker by introducing a continuing education requirement.

CBP officials speaking in various contexts have recently provided the following updated information on the specifics the agency is considering with respect to a continuing education requirement as it prepares a proposed rule.

- CBP believes continuing education should be mandated for individual brokers and is currently considering a requirement of 40 hours over three years (about one hour a month). Anything more than this would be seen as burdensome by brokers, while CBP sees anything much less as having little meaning. CBP has no plans to grandfather or exempt any broker from this requirement no matter how long they have held a license.

- Any continuing education requirement would take effect in 2018 at the earliest and possibly later. CBP expects the rulemaking process to take another 12-18 months, so imposing this requirement when the next triennial broker report is due in 2015 would not be feasible.

- CBP believes that continuing education should include activities that go beyond the traditional classroom setting, that travel should not be necessary to get quality continuing education, and that no-cost/low-cost opportunities should be emphasized. Continuing education could therefore include courses offered by CBP (e.g., webinars, in-person training, Centers of Excellence and Expertise conferences, COAC webcasts), the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America Education Institute, or other U.S. or foreign government agencies relevant to customs business; the CBP Trade Symposium; local, regional and national conferences and association meetings; and the monthly or quarterly meetings local CBP ports host with brokers. Brokers whose companies provide annual training would meet the requirement as long as the company gets the training accredited. CBP plans to add functionality to its webinars allowing participants to print proof of completion.

- Brokers who have obtained a CES (certified export specialist) or CCS (certified customs specialist) designation through the NCBFAA Education Institute would meet the continuing education requirement.

- CBP is planning to automate the triennial broker report so the continuing education requirement could be certified via a check box. If this certification were absent from the triennial report the broker would get a suspension notice with 60 days to respond, and if there were no response the license would be revoked by operation of law.

- Brokers would only have to provide proof of meeting the continuing education requirement if CBP asked for it. Acceptable methods of recordkeeping would include maintaining all course completion certificates in a readily accessible folder (computer or hard copy) or utilizing standardized training logs for employees (computer or hard copy). CBP visits to brokers at a corporate level would not include requests to examine individual education records, only what training the corporation itself is doing for its employee brokers.

- Brokers who want to maintain their license but are not going to conduct customs business would be able to check a box on the triennial report indicating that they are not active, which would eliminate the need to report continuing education.

- Brokers who are inactive and want to become active again would only need to make up the continuing education hours for last triennial cycle they missed; i.e., a maximum of 40 hours would be needed to reactivate a license.

- CBP will determine who can provide accredited coursework but will not do the accreditation itself. Instead, the agency expects to pick five to ten outside entities to conduct this work and will establish high standards for selection.

- There are several myths about continuing education that CBP would like to dispel: continuing education requirements are not yet in effect or being enforced, brokers will not have to take the broker exam every year, and the NCBFAA would not be the only education provider if a continuing education requirement is established.

CBP has made available a Q&A from a May 2 webinar on this topic that contains additional details. In addition, CBP is planning to hold another webinar June 6 to answer outstanding questions from the May 2 webinar and provide further clarification.

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