WASHINGTON — Less than 48 hours after the federal government's shutdown, shippers dependent on some agencies to clear cargo are seeing delays at U.S. ports of entry.
Shipments requiring paperwork from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture, which face severe staff reductions because of the shutdown, have been delayed several hours, according to Marianne Rowden, president and CEO of the American Association of Exporters and Importers.
Customs and Border Protection, whose mission is considered essential, hasn't faced the same stiff staff reductions, with only 6,000 of the 58,000 agency employees furloughed following the government shutdown over President Obama’s health care law.
But the shutdown has resulted in far fewer resources at the EPA, FDA and USDA to process certifications and other documents needed to clear some cargo, Rowden said. In other words, shippers of food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, radiological products and environmentally sensitive items should be ready for slower Customs clearance.
The good news for shippers is that hours of service at ports remains the same, and staff will be at full strength for U.S. validations under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. C-TPAT validation, however, could face delays overseas because of the ban on government travel that came with the shutdown, according to an AAEI briefing to members. The Centers for Excellence and Expertise remains open, and Customs is working to ensure development continues on the Automated Commercial Environment, an umbrella system for all of Customs’ communications with importers, exporters and brokers.
Customs told AAEI that some ACE development staff would have to be shifted to ports of entry, and the association believes private contractors on the project are furloughed.
There haven’t been any reports of air cargo shippers seeing clearnace delays, said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Washington-based Airforwarders Association. This is largely a result of robust CBP and Transportation Security Administration staffing, and the Air Cargo Advance Screening Initiative, he said.
“The freight forwarders or the airlines do” the majority of the screenings, Fried said. “TSA has more of an audit role.”
The partial shutdown of the government affects the information technology-intensive shipping industry more than just on the Customs clearance side. Filings and data releases from agencies, including the Federal Maritime Commission and the International Trade Commission, have stopped. The FMC, for example, isn't accepting a variety of filings, nor is it accepting or acting on complaints and requests for dispute resolution.
The shutdown also could hamper U.S. trade negotiations with the European Union and the other eight countries hammering out the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Rowden said. The federal sequestration already curtailed U.S. trade negotiators travel, and Obama today said he would cut short his weeklong Asia trip by skipping economic talks in Malaysia and the Philippines.