We have posted a few articles lately about the increase in U.S. Customs refusal of import shipments due to non-compliance with the wood packing material regulations, containing everything from perishable food products to floor tiles to machinery to textiles. This is a topical subject these days, and while Customs has not officially published the exact numbers, in fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued over 1,500 Emergency Action Notices to date in 2012 nationwide, with many of those being at the U.S.-Canada border. With very rare exceptions, these shipments have required immediate re-export. No recourse and no options for further mitigation or treatment are being offered at this time.
It is estimated that the U.S. spends about $138 million dollars each year fighting the effects of invasion by non-native species, which includes plants and seeds, as well as animals and insects. While CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and the USDA (United State Department of Agriculture) have been waging this battle for a number of years, there is a definite increase in the number of inspections taking place and the severity of required actions over the course of the past couple years. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) regulations regarding wood shipping material (ISPM 15) went into effect in 2005. Since then, all wood packaging material (WPM) entering the U.S. must be either heat treated or fumigated according to these regulations. We want to be clear that the recent increased levels of inspection and refusal are not due to any new requirements, but rather more focus and increased officer training regarding this important issue.
Wood packaging materials must not only be appropriately treated and have certification issued, but if an inspection is ordered and the officer finds reason to question the validity of the stampings or documentary statements, Customs has the right and the responsibility to refuse the shipment. This is a list of a few of the scenarios that have come to our attention recently:
- Cargo arrives at the port of entry with a mix of marked and unmarked WPM. No assumptions will be made by Customs as to the origin or status of the packing materials and the entire shipment will be refused and ordered for immediate export.
- When goods are delivered from overseas to a warehouse, the packaging is certified and appears clean. By the time it is shipped to the U.S., however, an uninvited rodent set up house in the warehouse. Even if the WPM is marked & certified, it will be rejected - likely for noxious weed seed - and refused, with immediate export demanded.
- The WPM is all certified and marked appropriately, but the Customs officer finds evidence, or even a question of evidence - say frass, or fresh boreholes - that it may have been re-infected, or possibly the initial treatment was not effective, or the marks and certification were fraudulent. You guessed it - the shipment is refused and immediate exportation is ordered.
- The WPM is certified and marked, but the Customs officer finds evidence that the WPM is concealed in some fashion - hidden between plys, or possibly an unmarked piece of bracing material. Once again, the shipment is refused and immediate export is ordered.
If your cargo is carried as a less than truckload (LTL) shipment, it may be consolidated on a truck or in a container with other shipments. If one shipment in that lot is found to be non-compliant, it is very likely that everything on that truck or container will be refused and sent back to origin. Who bears the costs involved? Every carrier makes their own decision on this, so you will want to address this issue with your carrier.
Clearly, the costs of having a shipment refused at the border can be tremendous. Between all of the necessary documentation, inspection fees and communications, carrier wait time, a wasted trip to the border and return, re-import process, repacking the shipment and sending it again - possibly late this time, or the risk of having an angry customer who no longer wants the product, not to mention possible penalties issued at a later date by U.S. Customs for non-compliance - no wonder you have a headache!
So, here are a few suggestions on what can you do to lessen the likelihood of being caught up in this scenario:
- Make sure that your warehouse personnel and your vendors know, understand and follow the regulations on WPM - the USDA-APHIS website is a good starting place to look for more in-depth information.
- As you load your shipments destined for the U.S., look at it like a Customs officer will: is the shipment packed so as to be easily examined? Are all pallets and crates clearly and appropriately stamped? How about dunnage, bracing and loose packaging - are they stamped? Know the signs of infestation - bark, frass, boreholes, live insects or larvae. Is there any evidence of pest infestation on the packing? Make sure the pallets are clean and clear of rodent debris, unintended soil or plant/seed material, and any other unwelcome pests.
- If you are building your own crates or packaging materials, you must use materials from a registered and accredited manufacturer, and have the final packing material treated appropriately. You cannot create your own ISPM15 marks.
- Understand what your carrier’s processes and policies are for shipments being returned due to non-compliance, particularly if you are shipping LTL loads. Be prepared with a plan of action, and remember that shipments cross the border and are examined 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at some ports, so it is a good idea to advise your Customs Broker of after-hours contact instructions.
- Stay in close communications with your Customs Broker regarding updates and/or changes in the regulations, and know how these changes might affect you and your cargo destined to the U.S.
Pacific Customs Brokers is happy to assist you in cutting through the red tape with Customs. We can provide you with helpful information to avoid delays and refusals and manage the entire Customs process seamlessly.