I am the President of the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers and the Secretary of the International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations, IFCBA. My office is in Ottawa, Canada. I have spent my professional life in the world of Customs, border management and trade facilitation. I am an advocate for the value and importance of customs brokers and I am passionate about the possibilities of Customs-business partnership, in Canada and worldwide. I believe strongly that building knowledge, investing in technology and managing relationships are critical to effective border management.
IFCBA and CBRA produced jointly the first survey study on future roles of customs brokers around 2004-2005. Looking now, in 2016, at the study outcomes: do you see that anything has changed or evolved in the “world of customs brokers” the way we anticipated a decade ago?
It is difficult to generalize as the role of a customs broker still differs so much between countries. The regulatory framework for licensing customs brokers and their scope of practice may be different, and the level of automation of a country’s Customs administration may influence the role of customs brokers in effective border management. Having said that, I believe that in the last decade the role of a customs broker as a trade facilitator has been even more effective than we had anticipated. Both importers and Customs recognize that knowledgeable, regulated customs brokers not only provide expedited navigation through and compliance with complex Customs requirements, they are widely used by businesses looking to reach new markets, with a minimum of cost and delay.
With Customs administrations automating their systems for risk management and implementing coordinated border management processes, there is also more focus on gathering information on the goods being imported prior to arrival, for admissibility and security purposes. In this context, the automation of carrier and cargo information is more important than it was ten years ago. With that in mind, the role of a customs broker is even more crucial today as the broker acts as a hub for all the data relating to a client’s transaction, ensuring its accuracy and compliance with Customs requirements.
Ten years ago, we thought that, by now, we would have made more progress with consistency of data requirements globally. There has been great work done by the World Customs Organization with its data model, but we still find that data requirements are not as harmonized or standardized as they could or should be.
From a business process standpoint, where licensed customs brokers exist they are used by the majority of importers – large multinational companies as well as small to medium enterprises. In a competitive marketplace, customs brokers are seeing more emphasis on performance measurement and key performance indications during the procurement process as well as in standard operations. Today, there is greater uncertainty in the business environment and increased complexity of the global supply chain. We think this also reflects the maturation of the brokerage industry where business managers focus on continuing improvements to their processes to reach maximum efficiencies in delivering value to clients.
By the way, are you aware of any recent research focusing on customs brokers, either on global or on national level?
The World Customs Organization, WCO conducted a survey of its members in 2015 on the subject of customs broker regulation and had an outstanding response rate. With many models of customs broker regulatory regimes among the WCO members, from no regulation to the mandatory use of a licensed customs broker, the results of the survey point to some opportunities for cooperation between Customs administrations and customs brokers, and, based on existing best practices, suggests considerations for a model for establishing a broker licensing system, particularly valuable where none exists today. It also offers ideas on engagement with customs brokers and other private sector players to enhance compliance and trade facilitation. We see this as a positive indicator of interest in issues that are of critical importance to the international customs broker community, and a sign that there is value in doing some additional work in this area.
From a customs broker’s perspective, which areas of global trade facilitation and supply chain security do you see as most important in 2016? What about the most difficult or challenging ones?
A very important development that might impact global trade is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TTP. I say might because coming into force depends on the US Congress ratification of the agreement, and currently the rhetoric coming from Washington shows little support for it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. But assuming the TPP is ratified by the 12 signatories, even though it means elimination of tariffs and tariff barriers, it also means a more complex environment to navigate the multiple free trade agreements for the multi-national importers. Customs brokers as experts in rules of origin and compliance, in general will continue playing a very important role in the trade chain.
Looking a bit further out, one of the most challenging issues of the next 5 years will be the immense growth in e-commerce globally, and the pressure put on governments world-wide by online retailers to increase the de-minimis thresholds. It is projected that the online sales will reach US $3.5 trillion by 2020. That represents a lot of import duties that may not be collected and remitted if the de-minimis thresholds are increased or standardized. We expect that the impact of this will be seen differently depending on positions taken by national administrations given their own economic situations and pressures for competitiveness. Customs brokers will no doubt integrate any such changes into their compliance models and service offerings, keeping their clients’ interests and obligations foremost.
We can’t speak of challenges without mentioning the global trade slowdown we’ve experienced since the 2008 global financial crisis. Many factors seem to be contributing to the continued sluggishness which some consider cyclical others structural in nature. Regardless, governments have to remember that trade can be a powerful tool in their policy toolkit and customs brokers are natural allies in promoting its growth.
Any other greetings you would like to send to the CBRA Interview and Blog readers?
IFCBA will be holding its next World Conference in Shanghai 17-21 May, 2016, and the theme is “Facilitating Trade Through the Customs-Business Connection”. Hundreds of delegates from all regions of the world will be in attendance representing national customs brokers associations, international customs organizations such as the WCO, freight forwarding firms, shipping companies, cross-border e-commerce associations, world logistics enterprises, and many more. Our conferences are held only every two years, and we are very excited about sharing ideas and strategies for success with business and government colleagues from around the world.
Thanks a lot Carol for this concluding note – we just added the IFCBA World Conference to CBRA´s Events calendar – and thanks for the whole interview; maybe we can explore bit later this year on joint research, training or other project opportunities…!
Related CBRA studies:
Gutierrez, X., Hintsa, J., Wieser, P. and Hameri, A.P. (2005), “New roles for customs brokers in international supply chain”, Proceedings of First International Conference on Transportation Logistics (T-LOG), July 27-29, 2005, Singapore.
Hintsa, J., Mohanty, S., Tsikolenko, V., Ivens, B., Leischnig, A., Kähäri, P., Hameri, A.P., and Cadot, O. (2014), The import VAT and duty de-minimis in the European Union – Where should they be and what will be the impact? Final Report, Brussels, Belgium.