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CBP Expands and Modifies Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CEEs) Test Program
By Melissa Miller Proctor, Esq., Sandler, Travis and Rosenberg, P.A.
On April 4, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") issued a General Notice announcing both the expansion of the current, voluntary Centers of Excellence and Expertise ("CEE") test program to include six additional centers as well as the modification of certain parameters of the test itself. See 78 Federal Register 20345 (April 4, 2013). Back in October 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") created the concept of industry-specific Centers of Excellence and Expertise ("CEEs") which are intended to serve as a single point of customs processing for importers in those product sectors. CBP's goal in establishing CEEs around the country is to increase uniformity of treatment (i.e., reduce instances of inconsistent decisions being issued by the ports on common industry issues), expedite resolution of compliance issues, reduce costs, and increase CBP technical knowledge of specific industry products and practices. The plan is to eventually transfer the operational trade functions that have traditionally resided with the ports of entry to the CEEs for exclusive handling. Conceivably, the CEE process may help companies that utilize many ports of entry, receive multiple Requests for Information from the various ports and have experienced inconsistent treatment on the same or similar issues from port to port.
In August 2012, CBP began conducting a test of the CEEs, routing key customs decision authority from the ports to the respective CEEs with respect to importers who volunteered for the program. The General Notice announces the addition of another six CEEs to the ongoing voluntary test program: Agriculture and Prepared Products (Miami); Apparel, Footwear and Textiles (San Francisco); Base Metals (Chicago); Consumer Products and Mass Merchandising (Atlanta); Industrial and Manufacturing Materials (Buffalo); and, Machinery (Laredo). Previously, the CEE test program involved only: Electronics (Long Beach); Pharmaceuticals, Health & Chemicals (New York City); Automotive & Aerospace (Detroit); and Petroleum, Natural Gas and Minerals (Houston).
Under the test protocol, participants' customs entries are routed to the appropriate CEE for:
- Processing claims for duty refunds
- Granting waivers of invoice requirements
- Issuing requests for computed value data, Requests for Information (CBP Form-28s), Notices of Action (CBP Form 29s)
- Granting extensions and suspensions of liquidation
- Processing requests for use of the computed value method
- Reviewing and correcting errors
- Processing protests
- Making determinations regarding the submission of entry summaries and estimated duties
The General Notice also instructs test program participants to:
- Electronically submit requests for entry cancellations to the CEEs
- Submit rejected ACS entry summaries to the CEEs' e-mail addresses to resolve Census issues
- File responses to Requests for Information and Notices of Action with the CEEs
- Electronically submit requests for Internal Advice to the CEEs (which will then coordinate handling with CBP's Regulations and Rulings, Office of International Trade)
- File protests via the electronic protest module in ACS, identifying the designated CEEs
With respect to the filing of prior disclosures in particular, test program participants were previously required to submit their disclosures to the CEEs instead of the ports of entry where the violations occurred. However, the General Notice now gives participants the option of either filing the prior disclosure with the port of entry or the CEE.
In order to participate in the current CEE test program, interested importers must first determine if they meet certain eligibility criteria. Specifically, the highest percentage of the company's entries must consist of the products or related items covered by the respective CEE. In addition, companies must have an ACE portal account. Eligible companies must submit a letter to CBP (Office of Field Operations, Trade Operations Division) either by e-mail or registered mail that includes the name and contact information of the business, name of the designated CEE applicable to the company's imports, and the business's importer of record (IOR) number. Applications to participate in the test for the six additional CEEs may be submitted as follows:
- Applications may be submitted for the Base Metals CEE, Industrial & Manufacturing Materials CEE, and Machinery CEE beginning on April 4, 2013.
- Applications may be submitted for the Agriculture & Prepared Products CEE, the Apparel, Footwear & Textiles CEE, and the Consumer Products & Mass Merchandising CEE beginning on June 3, 2013.
- Applications for participation in the ongoing test for the remaining CEEs will continue to be accepted throughout the duration of the test program.
CBP will notify the selected participants in writing of their acceptance into the program, their designated CEE, and the starting date of their participation. Note that CBP intends to give priority consideration for participation in the test program to importers that are already enrolled in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT - Tier 2 or Tier 3 members) and that are members of the Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) Program.
Test program participants that fail to follow the terms and conditions of the test, fail to exercise reasonable care in complying with the test requirements, or that violate the U.S. Customs Regulations may be removed from the test program and/or could be subject to civil, criminal and administrative penalties or liquidated damages.
Melissa Miller Proctor, Sandler, Travis and Rosenberg, P.A.
Melissa Miller Proctor is a Member of Sandler, Travis and Rosenberg, P.A. and the firm's Export Practice Leader, resident in the Scottsdale, Arizona office. With significant experience in export controls, customs laws and regulations, and international trade, Melissa works closely with clients to expand their markets while ensuring their regulatory compliance. She may be reached at (480) 305-2110 or via e-mail at email@example.com.