Shippers across the globe are sure to be confronted with new disruptions when navigating international markets–regardless of the shipping method put into place. Gone are the days when minimal compliance efforts are overlooked or passed off as acceptable. In the modern trade arena, compliance and accuracy are everything.
Tack on the pandemic, an ongoing trade war and what seems like a constantly shifting trade landscape, and compliance efforts can seem downright daunting and costly–especially to and from the U.S., according to Ben Bidwell, director of North America Customs and Compliance at C.H. Robinson.
“Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty once said, ‘If you think compliance is expensive, you should try non-compliance.’ When shippers make mistakes, it can become costly and not just in terms of freight delays, but it can lead to seizure of goods and even jail time for those who are involved,” explains Bidwell.
The C.H. Robinson executive shares that not only do shippers have to be more careful now than ever when trading across borders, but simply understanding the evergreen trade landscape and various barriers is a critical part of successful operations.
“Challenges in today’s trade market include Section 301, punitive tariffs, forced labor concerns and more,” Bidwell says. “But shippers cannot afford to forget about basics such as the U.S. Customs List of Trade Priority Issues, for example. Customs has certainly not lost sight of that list, and the importing community can’t afford to lose sight of it either.”
Different challenges require unique, strategic approaches in management. The constant shifting of these challenges depends primarily on the country in question, the products being shipped and local customs regulations. This is where automation, advanced technology and access to critical information can serve as significant game-changers for your customers and operations.
Trade & Tariffs Insights, a page on the C.H. Robinson website, “brings the latest challenges, changes and more wrapped together for importers and exporters to utilize and understand,” Bidwell says. “This resource helps shippers get the information they need–not only to remain compliant but to also keep them updated on the latest changes and potential changes that could impact their business.”
Staying informed with rock solid information is becoming ever more important, Bidwell notes.
“Visibility, access to your data and data analytics are critical in running a compliant and successful supply chain,” he says. “It equals not only results in compliance, but also duty savings, duty mitigation opportunities and overall awareness.”
C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere platform does exactly that. The data analysis tools (Carrier, Insight and Vision) capture key elements in the importing and exporting process while providing a clear path of data-backed insights and next-step actions. Navisphere leaves the guessing out of the process and enables customers to make informed decisions and cost analysis. Additionally, the different Navisphere tools serve as an extension in predictive data allowing shippers to proactively plan their next move.
“Shippers can go in and see where they are paying the most in duties and taxes by country, by specific commodity, by shipper, etc.; they can see all of that data side-by-side,” Bidwell says. “This feature gives them the opportunity to make informed decisions and assist with weighing, should we look at alternative sourcing options, for example.”
Another trending issue within the importing and exporting landscape is forced labor compliance. Bidwell shares that the penalties for such compliance issues–regardless of whether the importer is aware—are costly and can lead to the ultimate seizure or destruction of the goods in addition to severe civil penalties.
“Anytime you are shipping across borders, it is important to have a compliance program in place and that your company has individuals or a team dedicated to reviewing and maintaining that program,” he adds. “C.H. Robinson has worked with thousands of companies related to this. At the end of the day, our role is to act as an extension of their team, to not only get them up to speed on what they need to be doing from a compliance perspective, but in the long-term acting as a reliable partner to ensure their ongoing compliance.”
Shippers must keep in mind that customs has eyes on their shipments and implementing proactive rather than reactive measures will greatly benefit the business in the long-term. Bidwell advises that to ensure compliance measures are met and maintained, costs are inevitable. It really boils down to when these costs are enforced.
“Compliance is an investment. It may cost more on the front-end but skipping out on that investment could cost you tenfold in the long term. As far as other supporting elements with compliance efforts, I recommend going back to the data analytics and visibility of your own data, because that information can be telling, and it allows you to identify anomalies as they occur.”
Investing in a solid compliance strategy is not just for shippers, it is a critical piece to the entire process, throughout the whole supply chain. With the labor shortage being felt in almost every industry, the logistics sector cannot afford to skip out on the creation and adherence to acceptable compliance efforts. When employees are professionally trained and informed on upcoming changes within the market, your business benefits.
“It’s about getting back to basics and not losing sight of all of the baseline compliance that comes with importing and exporting,” Bidwell says. “It is easy to get lost with all the changes that are happening with trade policy and a very volatile market. Companies must ensure that they do not lose sight of traditional basic compliance, because that stuff hasn’t gone away, and customs certainly hasn’t stopped.”
C.H. Robinson provides solutions for their customers at the local level and across the globe. Ensuring all bases are covered through customs and compliance experts enables the customer to rely on these resource experts to advise on how to ensure their supply chain is compliant.
To learn more about C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere technology platform or other offerings, please visit chrobinson.com/en-us/technology/navisphere/.
Ben Bidwell is the director of North America customs and compliance at C.H. Robinson. Ben joined C.H. Robinson in 2004 and became a Licensed Customs House Broker in 2007. Throughout his career at C.H. Robinson, he has consulted and resolved a wide range of customs disputes for clients involving classification, country of origin, marking violations, seizures and protests for products ranging from hospitality goods, automobile tires, apparel and textiles, toys and other consumer retail goods.