Customs brokers applaud US Customs keeping borders open to cargo

To decrease the spread of coronavirus across North America, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has raised restrictions on cross-border passenger traffic during the past week with Canada and Mexico but continues to facilitate commercial trade between the countries.

Members of the Washington, D.C.-based National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) interviewed by American Shipper this week generally praised CBP for permitting the flow of legitimate trade across the continent.

“The CBP commercial traffic operations have not been affected other than the reduction of operations at plants in Mexico, which are shutting down due to safety concerns and government mandates on the closing of non-essential businesses,” said Jose D. Gonzalez, who operates his own customs brokerage firm at Laredo, Texas.

“CBP has been pro-trade and understands the importance of the supply chain process,” he added. “They are working with the trade stakeholders to ensure the flow continues.”

Customs brokers work on behalf of U.S. importers to clear their shipments through CBP and other government agencies’ trade oversight processes.

“So far, the commercial ports are all operational,” said NCBFAA President Amy Magnus, who serves as director of customs affairs and compliance for St. Albans, Vermont-based customs broker A.N. Deringer. “If cargo is somehow re-routed or stopped due to a port closing, that would concern us, but so far, CBP has not announced anything like that, and we have no reason to expect this to change.”

On April 6, for example, CBP announced closures and reduced hours for passenger traffic through small border crossings in upstate New York, including Rouses Point, Overton Corners, Mooers, Trout River and Fort Covington. However, the land-border ports of Champlain and Chateauguay remain open 24/7 to “appropriate commercial and passenger traffic,” the agency said in a statement.

Similar closures and reduced hours were announced by CBP for other small ports of entry across the U.S. northern and southern borders last week in an effort to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“We haven’t experienced any significant adverse impact with respect to CBP and PGA (participating government agency) clearance issues,” said Mike Jones, president of Blaine, Washington-based Jones & Jones Customs Brokers and Trade Consultants. “All of the ports and PGA offices [in the Pacific Northwest] seem to be carrying on as usual with respect to the flow of commercial cargo.”

The NCBFAA’s leadership continues to communicate daily with CBP on import matters and reports those interactions in a “COVID-19 Daily Round-Up” email to its members.

CBP set up a COVID-19 Cargo Resolution Team (CCRT) to answer industry questions regarding imports of medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

But customs brokers worry that the long-term continuation of the COVID-19 outbreak in North America could eventually impact CBP’s cross-border cargo processing.

“If the outbreak is not controlled, especially in the trade environment, there could be some consequences that would disrupt the supply chain industry,” Gonzalez said.

On April 2, CBP in Anchorage notified the trade that due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19 its office at 605 West 4th Avenue in Anchorage will be closed for the next 14 days. However, the agency reassured the shipping industry that cargo is still being processed through the Alaskan seaport.