Toward the end of 2013, Customized Brokers implemented a new operating system to add a higher degree of transparency to the customs clearing procedure for its clients.
Nelly Yunta, vice president of the Miami, FL-based customs house, which is owned by Crowley Maritime Corp., said the system is working very well. She said customers can monitor the clearing of their own product in real time and upload documents via the Internet. In essence, she said it has resulted in a more streamlined, efficient and transparent process.
Combined with the company’s relatively new cold-storage facility, which was opened a little more than a year ago, the firm has significantly upgraded its services to the import industry, including importers of Peruvian asparagus. Yunta said the cold-storage facility does allow the company to bundle services and make it easier for importers who want to turn over the entire product entry process to their customs broker. The firm can unload the product from ships or air containers and get it through the fumigation process, cool it and handle the paperwork.
But she added that Customized Brokers also offers each service individually for those customers that have a more hands-on approach or work with other cold-storage companies or customs brokers.
“Our goal is to make it easier for our customers. Whatever works for them is what we do,” she said.
For the current Peruvian asparagus season, Yunta said it appears to be following normal patterns with volume expected to increase once September rolls around. She said their customers keep them apprised when there are expected changes in volume and at this point in late July movement was fairly normal.
As the season progresses, Customized Brokers is expecting to handle a good amount of volume arriving both by sea and by air. While most asparagus is flown to the United States, Yunta said freight “capacity is always an issue” that causes most importers to use both modes of transportation. Of course, product shipped by sea comes at a lower cost but takes much longer to get to the United States. She noted that products from both Chile and Peru fight for the same air containers to the United States, which sometimes cause a demand-exceeds-supply situation for that space.
At the top of everyone’s mind in the Peruvian asparagus deal this year was a new proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could impose an additional $375 fumigation charge on every container of asparagus. The comment period ended July 24, and Yunta said most industry members did file comments. She said many protested the high cost of the service (going from zero to $375) as well as the details of the regulation. She said it was not clear what quantity of product would be covered by the charge.
“Is it a container, a pallet or a chamber,” she asked. “That wasn’t clear.”
She said most believe that at the end of the day there will be a charge, but hopefully not at the $375 level.
Another proposal called for increasing the overtime charge paid for government inspectors involved in the process. Yunta said this too would add costs to the process that might be difficult to absorb.
On the positive side, Yunta said there is a proposal on the table to eliminate mandatory fumigation, which could be replaced by a case-by-case metrics. While that sounds good, she indicated the devil could be in the details.
The protocol might be so complicated and time-consuming that it will still be better just to fumigate all the containers as they come into the country. That proposal still has a ways to travel through bureaucratic channels before it will be implemented.