Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Do Importers Need Import Compliance Procedures?

Creating import compliance procedures is a tremendous task for an organization, but it is a necessary process for importers, brokers and others with international trade compliance responsibilities. A well-written policy and procedure manual will help your organization fulfill its responsibility for compliance with CBP requirements and provide other benefits. An effective import compliance program includes written policies and procedures that promote the organization’s commitment to compliance.

Why would an importer want to invest time and money to prepare a procedures manual? A customs policy and procedure manual can help your organization:

· Demonstrate Reasonable Care and Compliance
As part of a Focused Assessment, CBP evaluates the importer’s internal controls and requests copies of procedures and evidence that the procedures are followed. Written procedures show CBP that your organization is serious about compliance.

· Provide Training and Decrease the Learning Curve
Procedures can be the roadmap that employees use to learn about importing and how import-related activities are performed. When procedures are written so that they explain the purpose and then provide step-by-step instructions on how to carry out the subject of the procedure, an employee will be able to know exactly what to do in such areas as documentation, recordkeeping, penalties, and other situations by reading the procedure.

· Save Time and Money
Written procedures can be used as guides to bring new employees up to speed faster and answer repetitive questions that are asked by any employee, including those in other departments. Electronic manuals allow for easy access by users. The use of electronic manuals also saves time in updating, printing, copying, and distributing bulky paper copies.

· Improve Efficiency
Creating procedures provides the company with an opportunity to review import-related processes in various functional areas of an organization. When writing procedures, it sometimes becomes apparent that those processes could be improved or changed to make them more efficient, avoid duplication of effort, close loopholes, or save money.

· Centralize Information and Provide Consistency (Electronic Versions)
Some organizations have too many manuals and loose memos so that employees do not know what is important. Policy and procedure manuals are not always up-to-date. An up-to-date, online system will permit those who use or are directly affected by policies and procedures, to have the access they need. Having one place to view the documents with various levels of access can help provide consistency in maintenance of the procedures.

There are numerous types of manuals and ways to write them. Importers have different needs when it comes to procedures. The CBP regulations are the same for all entities, but the application of the regulations may be different depending on the type of operation. A manufacturer’s processes are different from distribution centers. A foreign trade zone has operates differently than a retail importer. Some importers may have a dedicated staff of knowledgeable import professionals, while others may have only one or two employees that rely on outside experts for some of the work. While there is no one, right way to create a manual, importers must develop procedures that are related to the nature of their business and address compliance issues required by CBP.

If you don’t want to start from scratch, there are various helpful resources available for organizations creating a customs compliance procedure manual. We’ve provided information on two of these resources.

CBP provides a sample Internal Control Manual in Exhibit 4a of the Focused Assessment Program Documents. The Regulatory Audit Division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection prepared this document for the trade community to encourage importers to develop their own compliance programs. While CBP recommends that the importing community examine this publication for ideas to help develop their own unique compliance manual, this document has no legal or binding authority and was not designed to be all-inclusive.

Boskage Commerce Publications, Ltd. publishes a generic Import Policy and Procedure Manual containing over 150 policy and procedure guidelines with software that makes customization of procedures to fit your organization an easier task. The procedures contained in this publication serve as a convenient reference source and starting point to assist the user in developing a comprehensive import procedure manual. Similar to the CBP disclaimer, this publication is not law, and information contained in this publication is not to be considered legal advice. While every effort was made to include the procedures, which are fundamental to all importers, it is not possible for a publication of this size to cover all of the CBP laws and regulations

Remember, your organization’s Policy and Procedure Manual is not just a stack of documents. Your manual can demonstrate corporate commitment to compliance with CBP regulations, save the organization time and money, provide training and promote efficiency across functional areas.

Next month we’ll discuss the process of creating, customizing and implementing your import compliance manual.

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