Container Exams | Frustrations And Solutions Continue

As mentioned in our previous blog importers continue to be frustrated with the lengthy delays and subsequent costs of the Canada Border Agency (CBSA) container examination process moving through the Port of Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Container Examination Facility. These frustrations have become exacerbated by the pandemic where importers are also reporting both an increase in the number of exams they are seeing, as well as costs. Perishable loads are being lost, and others are incurring costs that exceed the threshold of profitability. When analyzing why this is happening it’s clear that the many parties involved, increased demand and overwhelmed capacities are contributing to the perfect storm that is the year 2020.

The Parties In The Exam Process Are Overwhelmed

The Marine Container Examination Process “consists of key stakeholders with distinct roles in moving containers into Canada.” The CBSA is responsible for the examination of marine containers, but does not control, influence, or charge for the movement of containers to and from the CBSA examination facility or the offloading and reloading of the containers. Instead they rely on the availability of the Port Authority stakeholders (vendors) that pick-up, store, examine and deliver the containers in question. If any one of these parties in the process is overwhelmed with demand, the chain slows down and your container sits idle with the meter running.

What continues to be lacking is a standard or service level agreement between CBSA and the Port Authority stakeholders to present the goods to CBSA for examination in a timely manner. As was reported in our earlier blog there is no incentive today to improve inspection efficiency because container terminal operators charge daily per container storage fees of hundreds to thousands of dollars. Importers, and ultimately the end consumer bear all the direct costs incurred for the exams.

Importers are also responsible for all indirect costs resulting from exams such as loss of reputation in the marketplace, damages or losses during the exam, lost sales, production and/or contract penalties due to delivery delays. Added to this is the confusion an importer is faced with when demurrage, detention, and per diem terms are often and incorrectly used interchangeably on invoices.

Increased Safety Measures Results In Uptick In Examinations

It is understandable that CBSA will take special measures for health and safety controls at the border especially during a pandemic. Therefore the number of examinations has increased.

A certain country of origin of goods may cause CBSA to further risk assess goods for examination to ensure the goods are safe and secure for consumption in Canada. Goods such as Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) imported to protect healthcare workers and the like are closely watched to ensure the products meet health and safety standards.

We have also been advised that certain containers must pass fumigation, and/or be given the amount of time needed to become safely fumigated before officers can safely inspect.

The Issues And Solutions Of Container Exams At The Port Of Vancouver

Types Of Examinations Affect Costs

Importers should be aware that CBSA can conduct two types of examinations. The first is a First Port of Arrival (FPOA) examination and these are conducted for “health, safety and security” at the port of discharge of the vessel or at the airport of arrival or highway border, and are not allowed to move inland to bonded sufferance facilities. FPOA examinations in the highway or airport modes are not as time consuming or costly as the marine mode. There are no third party stakeholders involved in the delivery of the container to the examination facility. These examinations are looking for contraband.

The second type of examination is a commercial examination by the officer reviewing the declaration submitted for the goods. Here, CBSA is searching for “non-compliance” such as labelling, descriptions, piece counts, and compliance with Participating Government Agency (PGA) regulations. These examinations can be conducted at inland sufferance warehouses.

It is possible that a container or shipment can be examined twice by CBSA, first at the FPOA for health, safety and security and second as a commercial examination. These exams can be conducted at two different locations. CBSA has committed that they will endeavor to “examine once” but this is not always the case. The FPOA examination could be subsequently followed with a non-negotiable PGA compliance exam.

Marine container examinations can be as high as $6000.00 per container and up to $1000.00 per trailer at the border. Examinations at the border whether at a highway or air port of arrival are not nearly as costly as marine, however can still cost hundreds of dollars and lost time. There are less stakeholders involved and the examination warehouse is usually located at the first port of arrival.

What Importers Can Do

CBSA must effectively work on developing a collaborative working relationship with service providers at the FPOA. A reasonable service standard of presenting cargo to the CBSA examination facility must be established and the service providers, not the importers, should be penalized when that standard is not met. We encourage the importing community to continue to hold the exam facility operators accountable with service standards, and request they be published along with predictable rate structure.

Customs brokers can directly represent importers in the coordination or facilitation of the examination process with the stakeholders and CBSA.

However, if your business has experienced a number of delays and exams which exceed what would be considered “normal” or “expected” during a pandemic and your customs broker has exhausted all avenues to address this problem then it’s time to take further action.

Complaints or concerns should be made to CBSA with as many specific details as possible by completing a Canada Border Services Agency Feedback Form. CBSA can then investigate and provide appropriate resolution to the issue.

Complaints or concerns should be made to the container examination facilities

  • Harbourlink/Tidewater is the Service Provider for Tsawwassen Terminal 604-940-5522
  • EPC or Employment Professionals of Canada is the service provider at the land border 1-800-842-0421
  • For Vanterm and Centerm and all the commercial sufferance warehouses there is a variety

Complaints or concerns should be made to the Port of Vancouver

  • Port of Vancouver Operations 604-665-9086

Additionally, you can contact your local Member of Parliament to address your concerns and again provide as many specific details as possible.

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About Author
Jan Brock

Jan Brock joined Pacific Customs Brokers in 2015 as a Senior Trade Advisor. She retired from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in 2015 after serving more than 37 years. Jan started her career with CBSA as a summer student in 1976 and worked part-time until she graduated from U.B.C. with a Bachelor of Education Degree in 1980 . Shortly after graduating from U.B.C. Jan worked full time as an inspector with CBSA and within three years was promoted to Superintendent. She served some time in the Regional Operations office as an Operations Review Officer before she was promoted to Chief of Operations first at the Customs Mail Centre, then in the Metro District as the Commercial Chief and ending her career as a Chief at Pacific Highway Commercial Operations where she served as Chief from 1992 to 2015. During her career she was a member of the Customs Drug Team and a trainer in the National Enforcement Program. Jan also served as the Regional Coordinator Officer Powers and Use of Force for the Pacific Region. Jan served on many Commercial Program Reviews and committees both national and regional during her career and possesses an expansive knowledge of importing and exporting into and from Canada.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.