The first significant customs modernization legislation in more than three decades could start to advance in Congress this year. Lawmakers at a recent hearing expressed broad interest in giving U.S. Customs and Border Protection the tools it needs for trade facilitation and enforcement now and into the future.
CBP has said that since enactment of the Customs Modernization Act of 1993, U.S. trade volumes have increased from $600 billion to over $2.7 trillion per year, with two million low-value shipments entering the country on a daily basis. CBP has also found that the complexities of modern supply chains have made it increasingly difficult to identify and deter violative behavior.
CBP has been working in recent years to address these and related challenges through the 21st Century Customs Framework. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced legislation in 2021 to help advance the 21CCF, but a number of concerns were raised about that bill and no further action was taken on it before the last Congress ended.
Nevertheless, customs modernization appears to still be of substantial interest to lawmakers, judging by the fact that the Senate Finance Committee dedicated one of its first hearings of the year to the issue. At that hearing Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., noted that “a lot has changed” since Congress passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act in 2015, including increases in trade volumes, e-commerce, illegally-fished seafood, and imports of illegal drugs and counterfeit goods. Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, agreed, adding that modernizing U.S. customs laws “is fast becoming of critical importance … to counter both existing threats trying to make their way into this country, and those on the horizon.”
Wyden said the committee will therefore work with CBP and others this year on how Congress can improve U.S. trade laws to give CBP tools that will help it target “today’s trade cheats” but are “flexible enough to stop the next round of trade cheaters too.” He also emphasized the need to streamline imports from “trusted traders with clean supply chains” to “help U.S. producers get the inputs they need, reduce bottlenecks, delays and price increases for consumers, and help Customs focus their resources on enforcement to keep out illegal goods.” Crapo said this effort should be informed by the work CBP and its advisory committees have done on the 21CCF since 2018.
Witnesses at the hearing outlined some of the provisions they want to see as part of this effort, with business groups highlighting trade facilitation and labor representatives emphasizing enforcement.
Cindy Allen, vice president, regulatory affairs and compliance, for FedEx Logistics, said the federal government should “remain focused on requiring the right data, at the right time, from the right party” and should link this effort to “trusted trader and authorized economic operator benefits.” Scott Pickel, senior director of international supply chain policy for the National Foreign Trade Council, emphasized many of the same points and added that new legislation should continue to embrace automation to simplify cargo processing and promote transparency. Brenda Smith, a former senior CBP official now serving as global director, government outreach, for Expeditors International of Washington Inc., affirmed that these improvements are important but emphasized that CBP needs more money, technology, and personnel to develop and implement them.
Andy Meserve, representing a steel workers’ union, called for faster responses to illegal trade practices, higher penalties for repeated trade law violations, and a priority on CBP’s efforts to collect duties and stop illegal goods at the border. Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, urged that CBP be required to “greatly increase the volume and precision of its public reporting” on its forced labor enforcement efforts.
For more information on the 21CCF and related legislation, please contact Lenny Feldman at (305) 894-1011 or via email or Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.
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