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Thursday, May 23, 2013

U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Trade Facilitation, Enforcement, and Security

Vivian C. Jones
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Marc R. Rosenblum
Specialist in Immigration Policy

International trade is a critical component of the U.S. economy, with U.S. merchandise imports and exports amounting to $2.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in 2011, respectively. The efficient flow of legally traded goods in and out of the United States is thus a vital element of the country’s economic security.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the primary agency charged with ensuring the smooth flow of trade through U.S. ports of entry (POEs). CBP’s policies with regard to U.S. imports are designed to (1) facilitate the smooth flow of imported cargo through U.S. ports of entry; (2) enforce trade and customs laws designed to protect U.S. consumers and business and to collect customs revenue; and (3) enforce import security laws designed to prevent weapons of mass destruction, illegal drugs, and other contraband from entering the United States—a complex and difficult mission. Congress has a direct role in organizing, authorizing, and defining CBP’s international trade functions, as well as appropriating funding for and conducting oversight of its programs. In the 113
th Congress, S. 662, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act of 2013, seeks to reauthorize CBP’s trade functions. Two bills were introduced at the end of the 112th Congress also seeking to reauthorize CBP’s trade functions. These bills were H.R. 6642 and H.R. 6656.

Laws currently authorizing the trade facilitation and enforcement functions of CBP (as outlined in the Customs Modernization and Informed Compliance Act, Title VI of P.L. 103-182) emphasize a balanced relationship between CBP and the trade community based on the principles of “shared responsibility,” “reasonable care,” and “informed compliance.” Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, Congress has placed greater emphasis on import security and CBP’s role in preventing terrorist attacks at the border. Legislation addressing customs procedures and import security includes the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-347), and the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53).

CBP’s current import strategy emphasizes a risk management approach that segments importers into higher and lower risk pools and focuses trade enforcement and import security procedures on higher-risk imports, while expediting lower-risk flows. CBP’s “multi-layered approach” means that security screening and enforcement occur at multiple points in the import process, beginning before goods are loaded in foreign ports (pre-entry) and continuing long after the time goods have been admitted into the United States (post-entry).

How effectively CBP has performed its import policy mission is a matter of some debate. Some participants in CBP’s “trusted trader” programs argue that the concessions CBP provides at the border do not adequately justify the effort and expense participants undergo to certify their supply chains with CBP. Questions have also been raised about CBP’s management of trade facilitation, especially the “customs modernization” process through which the Automated Commercial System (ACS) trade data management system is being phased out in favor of the newer Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). Some critics also assert that CBP has not adequately fulfilled its trade enforcement role, especially its duties for preventing illegal transshipments, protecting U.S. intellectual property rights, and collecting duties. Still others criticize CBP’s performance of its security functions, especially because it does not yet physically scan 100% of maritime cargo as mandated by the SAFE Port Act of 2006, as amended.

Date of Report: April 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: R43014
Price: $29.95

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