Monday, September 24, 2007

Pack Your Bags: The Exam Materials Checklist

With the exam less than a week a way, it’s time to start thinking about what to pack for the exam. You will be using most of these materials up until the day before the exam, so it’s impossible to pack them too much in advance of the actual test. However, you can use the practical checklist we’ve created to make sure that you have everything on the list packed in your heavy-duty tote bag, large cardboard box or other container the night before the exam. If you are like most people, you may be a little nervous prior to the exam so you don’t want to run the risk of forgetting something important or being late because you couldn’t find your calculator, pens or other materials. Packing everything on your checklist the night before will help you relax and reduce unnecessary stress.

Click on the link below to view and print your Customs Brokers License Exam Materials Checklist. You can customize this list to add specific items that you plan take to the exam. No matter what you plan to take, make sure to use the checklist to ensure you have each item packed and ready to go the night before the exam. Remember, electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones are prohibited.

The Exam Materials Checklist.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How Will Your Organization Comply With 10+2?

Although the final rule has not yet been published, 10+2 has already become a hot topic of conversation in international trade news. The SAFE Ports Act of 2006 requires Custom and Border Protection (CBP) to find a method to discover and report data elements to identify high-risk imports for inspection. The “10+2” requirement is being developed as a mechanism to obtain this information prior to the loading of ocean cargo at foreign ports. CBP has been working with various trade groups such as AAEI, COAC, NCBFAA, ICPA and others to formulate requirements that will provide the most useful data with the least amount of intrusion, expense and effort from the trade.

The current proposal will require importers of products shipped as ocean cargo to supply CBP with ten additional data elements 24 hours prior to loading:

· Manufacturer Name and Address
· Seller Name and Address
· Container Stuffing Location
· Consolidator Name and Address
· Buyer Name and Address
· Ship to Name and Address
· Importer of Record Number
· Consignee Number
· Country of Origin of the Goods
· Commodity Harmonized Tariff Schedule Number

In addition to the 10 data elements outlined above, CBP will require ocean carriers to provide two additional data sets to complete the security filing.

· Vessel Stow Plan
· Container Status Messages

Because the 10+2 elements are not found in one document or location, collection of this information will likely result in additional work and increased cost for the importer. The new requirements create questions for importers.

1. Who will be responsible for submitting this data?
The answer to this question will depend on structure of each importer’s organization. In the draft documents, the importer is responsible for the first ten elements and the carrier is responsible for the other two. The importer may select a broker or other trade intermediary to act as the reporting party; however, there may be additional costs incurred from the broker for this service. The importer may develop a process that that combines the collection of 10+2 elements with the information necessary for the customs entry and other compliance requirements. Some importers may take this a step further by self-filing customs entries. The bottom line is that the data must be collected and reported and someone must be assigned responsibility for this new task.

2. Will your company be able to provide all of this information 24 hours before your ocean cargo is loaded?
Looking at the importer’s list there are pieces of information that are more readily available because they are currently required for the entry summary. The country of origin is required on the commercial invoice and for the entry summary. The importer also knows its own importer number. On the other hand, the name and address of the consolidator and the container stuffing location may require a little more work, as this information is not required on any Customs documentation or for recordkeeping. While the HTS number is required on the entry summary, there may be situations in which not all of the information is known about the product when it is shipped; therefore, the importer may not have completed the classification process. We’ll provide some suggestions on how to start collecting this data at the end of this article.

3. What will happen if data elements are not transmitted?

Until the final rule is published, this question will continue to invite additional questions. If the data is not transmitted, will the container be detained? What if only one element is missing? Will importers and carriers be tempted to make up data? How will the data be verified? As you can see, there are more questions that will hopefully be addressed in CBP’s final document.

4. Why can’t someone create one set of data elements that will be acceptable for all international uses?
After the 10+2 security filing rule is passed, there will be two sets of data elements required for movement of cargo, yet the data is not consistent. The
WCO SAFE Framework is designed to facilitate trade and to protect against the threats of terrorism internationally. However, the WCO SAFE Framework contains reporting requirements that do not match the 24-Hour or 10+2 requirements. Having multiple sets of required data creates additional collection and reporting costs. It would be beneficial for all parties if an agreement could be worked out that would reduce the duplication and create more uniform reporting requirements.

The final rule is likely to be published in the Federal Register this fall, possibly in October. After the final rule is published in the Federal Register, CBP officials have stated that they plan to implement the 10+2 program over 12 month period to allow the trade to make changes to software, procedures and physical processing. Collecting and filing the data elements will require improved communication and cooperation between carriers, importers, brokers and other trade participants. The trade community has been working together to find ways to obtain and report the information. Even though the processes and procedures vary from importer to importer, the following list provides some useful suggestions for importers to consider:

1. Work with purchasing and other supply chain personnel to develop mechanisms to collect the data. The purchase order and other contracts are an ideal place to start because they are often used to provide information to sellers and they can be used to require that the seller supply certain information.

2. Develop processes that will link classifications to purchase orders. Many importers have systems that will match the HTS number to the purchase order as specific parts are listed. For importers that do not have HTS numbers assigned to all parts, the purchase order could be used to start the classification process so that the HTS number is available before the product is shipped.

3. Work with the information technology department to develop methods to capture and retain required data. There may be interfaces with carriers, brokers and other trade partners available to transfer this information, which will reduce administrative costs involved in developing new programs.

4. Participate with others in the trade community to share best practices.

5. Check the
CBP web site and other sources of information regularly for updates.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Import Safety Group Publishes Strategic Framework

The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety was established by Executive Order on July 18, 2007, to conduct a comprehensive review of current import safety practices and identify actions to promote, improve and enforce safety standards on imported products. The establishment of this group was prompted by the recent dangers found in some toys, pet food ingredients and seafood; however, the working group is also concerned with the safety of all imported food, health products, tires, toys and other products. Chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, the working group is comprised of officials from 12 federal agencies with responsibilities related to import safety.

The group’s first order of business was to review the current safety processes and procedures and identify some of the current industry best practices. The result was a 22-page preliminary report issued on September 10 that introduced a strategic framework outlining the steps necessary to implement cost efficient risk-based approach to improve the safety of imported products.

The report begins by summarizing import statistics and providing background information. Next, an analysis of the existing conditions resulted in list of deficiencies and challenges which include: obtaining comprehensive information to address import safety, coordination of safety and security measures, acquiring additional authorities to address and implement effective safety measures, obtaining adequate product information, and creation of systems to share information between federal and state systems and addressing circumvention to avoid U.S. restrictions on certain goods. From this analysis, the group formulated three organizing principles and the implementation for the Strategic Framework. The principles of the Strategic Framework consist of prevention, intervention and response. The report advises implementing these principles through six “building blocks” that include:

· Advance a Common Vision
· Increase Accountability, Enforcement and Deterrence
· Focus on Risks Over the Life Cycle of an Imported Product
· Build Interoperable Systems
· Foster a Culture of Collaboration
· Promote Technological Innovation and New Science

The initial provisions of the Strategic Framework proposed by the Working Group are similar to the principles of C-TPAT, which require a shift from the reliance on individual inspections to a risk-based program where importers certify that their supply chain uses the best practices and CBP validates this through random inspections. Like C-TPAT, this risk-based program will help ensure that safety is built into the processes and products throughout the supply chain from point of manufacture in the foreign country to point of delivery in the U.S.

As a result of the initial report, the Working Group has two events currently on the agenda: a public meeting in October and the publication of an action plan in November. Stay tuned to this blog and the agency’s web site for new developments from the Working Group on Import Safety.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

April Exam: Harder Than October?

Over the years, stories about the Customs Broker Exam have circulated within the international trade community to the point that people cannot tell whether the stories are fact or fiction. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to verify the validity of these stories. We thought it would be nice to share a common exam rumor that we have heard over the years and provide some useful statistics that may help clarify this story. We'll start with a comment that was posted to this blog in August.

Comment: The October exam is always easier than the April exam.

If the October exam were always easier than the April exam, no one would take the April exam. Let's take a look at some statistics based on previous exams. We've posted the exam pass rates on two different charts below. Chart 1 shows the pass rates for each exam for the last 20 years, starting in 1987. In 20 years, there were 12 years in which the October exam had a higher pass rate than the April exam. This equates to a pass rate being higher on the October exam 60% of the time. Chart 2 shows the pass rates for the last five years. In five years, there were three years where the October exam pass rate was higher than the April exam. Again, we have a higher pass rate on the October exam 60% of the time. A percentage of 60% is not significant enough to substantiate a claim that the October exam is always easier than the April exam. One could also state that the October exam is more difficult than the April exam 40% of the time.

Pass Rate Data: Chart 1
Pass Rate Data: Chart 2

But that doesn't tell the whole story. If you look at the average pass rate over that span, you'll find the following statistics:

April: Average pass rate - 22.7%

October: Average pass rate - 25.75%

Thus, we can see that over the past 20 years, the variance between April and October's average pass rates is just 3% - a negligible variance.

Another important consideration is the ever-changing structure of the test. When evaluating the difficulty of a test and comparing the pass rates, it is important to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Changes made in the structure of the exam may account for changes in the degree of difficulty and therefore affect the pass the rate.

Let's take a look at some historical information about how the structure of the exam has changed over the years:

April 1987 - April 1997 Changes
100 Multiple Choice Questions
4.5 Hours
References: HTSUS and Customs Regulations

October 1997 Changes
85 Multiple Choice Questions

April 1998 Changes
80 Multiple Choice Questions
4 Hours

April 2005 Changes

References: HTSUS, Customs Regulations, CATAIR and Directives
Exam Questions Arranged by Subject

April 2006 Changes

References: Other documents added

As you can see from this list, the number of questions, structure, references and time allowed have all changed in the last 20 years. While the multiple-choice format has stayed the same, the references allowed and number of questions have changed significantly. All of these changes could potentially affect the pass rate. Thus, comparing the results of an exam given in 1987 to the pass rate of an exam given in 2006 might not provide the most accurate conclusions.

So, with that in mind, let's look at the average pass rates since April 1998 - the last major structural change to the exam.

April: Average pass rate - 19.0%

October: Average pass rate - 19.9%

So, when examining the statistics, we can see that the facts do not substantiate the claim that the April exam is always more difficult. In fact, when taken over the last 9 years, the average pass rates between the two months is almost identical.

Have you heard a good story about the Customs Broker Exam? We invite you to share some of the stories you've heard and comment on others that have been posted.

Notice to Students Taking the October Exam

Typically, the October Customs Broker License Exam uses the Customs Regulations (19 CFR Chapter I) from the previous year. However, this year, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) has made the unexpected decision to test this year's editions.

Because of this, we've created a special supplement to the 2006 Special Study Edition of the U.S. Customs Regulations. You can use it to make your book up-to-date as of April 2007, in accordance with the recommendations of Customs & Border Protection for the purposes of the October 2007 Licensure Exam. For your convenience, this supplement is printed on brightly colored paper, and the updated sections on each page have been indicated by a box around the affected text.

If you ordered the 2006 Special Study Edition from Boskage as part of the exam reference package for the October exam, you will automatically receive this supplement free of cost. Anyone else interested in updating their 2006 Study Edition should contact us for more information.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Tips for Answering Classification Questions on the Customs Broker Exam

With the October exam just a few weeks away, there are lots of aspiring broker applicants working hard to learn as much as possible. While there is no substitute for studying the Customs Regulations and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, we’ve come up with a few helpful strategies that might make your studies easier. Our first tip involves a method of answering classification questions on the exam.

While the rules for classification are the same, the approach to classification on the exam is a little different from the approach importers and brokers use when classifying their products. Why? Classification questions on the Customs Broker Exam are designed to encourage a high level of attention to the details, and you have a limited time to answer them. Additionally, the correct classification is provided on the Customs Brokers Exam and all you have to do is select the right one. In reality, importers and brokers are not provided with five options from which they can select the correct answer, thus the process is a little more complicated. Understanding the information provided in the question is the key to being able to select the correct answer. To make sure you don't miss any information, try this technique when classifying questions on the exam.

Step 1: Make a list of the information provided in the question. Making a list should help you remember all of the components and reduce the tendency to focus on one or two of the components listed in the question.

Step 2: Skim section and chapter notes for specific exclusions. The Section and Chapter Notes often provide information that specifically includes or excludes a product from a certain provision. Customs often tests the applicant’s classification knowledge by asking questions that will require consulting these notes.

Step 3: Eliminate obvious incorrect answers. Once you have a list of key components and look up the classifications provided, you will be able to eliminate some of the answer selections easily. The selections can normally be narrowed down to two.

Note: Steps 2 and 3 may be used together. Sometimes you can eliminate answers without consulting the chapter notes, but in other situations, you may need to consult the chapter notes in order to eliminate answers.

Step 4: Select the best classification. If you’ve followed these steps, the correct classification should be clear. At worst, you should have narrowed the selection down to two possible answers. Make sure you haven’t overlooked a note and select the best answer. You can always come back and review this question if you have time at the end of the exam.


Example 1

What is the classification of a woven nylon scarf measuring 55 cm x 50 cm?

A. 6214.30.0000
B. 6214.40.0000
C. 6213.90.1000
D. 6117.10.2030
E. 6117.10.6020

Step 1: Make a list of the key information about the item to be classified.

1. Woven
2. Nylon
3. Scarf
4. 55 cm x 50 cm

Note: In this example, we were able to easily eliminate two obvious incorrect answers before reading the notes.

Step 2: Eliminate obvious incorrect answers

1. We can eliminate Answers D and E because Chapter 61 covers knit articles.

2. Answer B is incorrect because nylon is a synthetic fiber. If you didn’t know nylon was a synthetic fiber, you might have difficulty eliminating this one. Now you know why it’s a good reason to bring a dictionary with you! If you look up “nylon” in the Alphabetical Index, you’ll find it refers you to “synthetic fibers.”

3. It would appear that Answer A is the correct answer for our scarf since the provision provides for scarves and Answer C provides for handkerchiefs; however, it would be a mistake to quit here without reading the Chapter Notes.

Step 3: Skim section and chapter notes for specific exclusions. Chapter 62 Note 7 states that scarves that measure less than 60 cm should be classified as handkerchiefs under 6213. Since the scarves in the question are under 60 cm, then Answer A is incorrect.

Step 4: Select the best classification. We have eliminated all of the answers except C, which is the best answer for this question.

Example 2

What is the classification for baby girls' cotton dresses woven (not knitted) of 100% cotton for babies with a height of 96 cms?

A. 6209.20.1000
B. 6204.42.3060
C. 6204.49.5010
D. 6204.42.3020
E. 6204.42.2000

Step 1: Make a list of the key information about the item to be classified.

1. Baby girl's dress

2. Woven

3. 100% cotton

4. Babies Height 96 cm

Step 2: Eliminate obvious incorrect answers

1. Answer C is incorrect because the provision is for "other" materials and our dress is cotton which has its own provision.

2. Answer D is incorrect because the provision is for corduroy and our dress was not described as such.

3. Answer E is incorrect because our dress is 100% cotton and does not contain flax.

If we were in a hurry, it would be tempting to select Answer A that provides for babies clothing of cotton, right? What about the height? Just because a garment may be described as a dress for baby girls doesn’t mean it is classified as a babies’ garment.

Step 3: Skim section and chapter notes for specific exclusions. Chapter 62 Note 4a states that babies’ garments are for babies with a height not over 86 cm. Our dress is for a baby of 96 cm; therefore, it will not be classified as a baby's dress even though we call it a baby dress and it is for a baby. Answer A is incorrect because the provision is for babies.

Step 4: Select the best classification. Answer B is correct because the provision is for a girl’s dress of cotton.

Example 3

What is the classification for peaches preserved in syrup, packed in retail containers each holding less than 1.4 kg, and entered on July 31?

A. 0809.30.2000
B. 0811.90.8080
C. 0812.90.9000
D. 2008.70.1020
E. 2008.70.2020

Step 1: Make a list of the key information about the item to be classified.

1. Peaches
2. Preserved in syrup
3. Packed in retail containers <> 8 or 20.

Step 3: Eliminate obvious incorrect answers

1. Answer A is incorrect because preserved peaches are no longer fresh.

2. Answer B is incorrect because these peaches are not frozen.

3. Answer C is incorrect because these peaches are suitable for consumption.

4. Answer D is incorrect because the product is described as peaches and not nectarines.

Step 4: Select the best classification. Since we have eliminated four of the five selections, the remaining answer should be the correct one. This HTS 2008.70.2020 provides for peaches that are otherwise prepared or preserved in containers less than 1.4 kg., which matches our description.

Note: Sometimes Customs adds facts to the question that are irrelevant in arriving at the answer. Notice that the entry date of July 31 is irrelevant to the correct answer in this example. You should list all of the elements provided, but remember that some of the elements may be irrelevant.

Let us know what you think. If you have another method that works for you, please share it with us!