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Newsletter

Customs’ New 24-Hour Cargo Manifest
And Proposed Rule On Requests
For Confidentiality Of Shipper Information

February 3, 2003

As of today, February 3, 2003, Customs’ new 24-hour Cargo Manifest rule (See T.D. 02-62) is in effect, and carriers are now required to submit a vessel's Cargo Declaration to U.S. Customs 24 hours prior to loading a container aboard a vessel at a foreign port. Carriers that participate in Customs Automated Manifest System (AMS) will be required to provide their cargo declarations electronically. Under the new requirements, the descriptions of goods on each shipment must be more detailed than previously required.

In addition to the regular cargo manifest information required, the Vessel Cargo Declaration must include the following information:

  • The numbers and quantities from the carrier's ocean bills of lading, either master or house, as applicable;
  • A precise description (or the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) numbers to the 6-digit level under which the cargo is classified if that information is received from the shipper) and weight of the cargo or, for a sealed container, the shipper's declared description and weight of the cargo. Generic descriptions, specifically those such as "FAK" ("freight of all kinds"), "general cargo", and "STC" ("said to contain") are not acceptable;
  • The shipper's complete name and address, or identification number, from all bills of lading;
  • The complete name and address of the consignee or the owner or owner's representative, or identification number, from all bills of lading;
  • Container numbers (for containerized shipments); and
  • The seal numbers for all seals affixed to containers.

The masters of the vessel will be subject to penalties and liquidated damages for providing Customs with false or inaccurate data. It is very likely that the carriers will pass these penalties to the their customers, the exporter or importer, as the source of the false or inaccurate information.

The 24-hour rule will present a great many challenges to exporters, carriers, and importers as they rush to meet this new deadline and provide sufficiently detailed and accurate information so as to allow Customs to determine whether to allow the loading of the container onboard the vessel. Lurking below the waterline, however, is the fact that many elements of the vessel’s inbound cargo declaration is available for public inspection. (See 19 C.F.R. 103.31-- Information on vessel manifests and summary statistical reports.). There is a great concern that the release of such information would reveal confidential business information and harm the parties in the transactions.

In providing for the disclosure of this information, however, Congress also authorized importers and consignees to protect their name, address, and identifying marks and numbers from disclosure, along with the name and address of their supplier. (See 19 U.S.C. 1431(c).

An importer or consignee may request confidential treatment by following the procedure set out in section 103.31(d)(1) of the Customs Regulations:

(i) An importer or consignee, or authorized employee, attorney or official of the importer or consignee, must submit a certification claiming confidential treatment of its name and address. The name and address of an importer or consignee includes marks and numbers that reveal the name and address of the importer or consignee. An importer or consignee may file a certification requesting confidentiality for all its shippers.

There is no prescribed format for the request. However, the certification must include the importer or consignee's Internal Revenue Service Employer Number. There is no requirement to provide sufficient facts to support the conclusion that the disclosure of the names and addresses would likely cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the importer or consignee.

The certification must be submitted to the Disclosure Law Officer, Headquarters, U.S. Customs Service, 1301 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20229.

Each initial request will be valid for a period of two years from the date of receipt. Renewal requests should be submitted to the Regulations and Disclosure Law Branch at least 60 days prior to the expiration of the current request. An importer or consignee shall be given written notification by Customs of the receipt of its request for confidentiality.

New Procedure For Requesting Cargo Confidentiality
By Electronic Cargo Filers

In addition to accepting submissions of requests for confidentiality from an importer or consignee, Customs is proposing to allow the Carrier or NVOCC that files its cargo declaration electronically to submit a certification for confidential treatment on behalf of the importer or consignee if it is authorized to do so by the importer or consignee. See Notice of Proposed Rule Making, 68 Fed. Reg. 1173, dated January 9, 2003. Unlike the requests filed by importers or consignees, requests filed by the Carriers are good for only six months, and then must be renewed.

Parties wishing to submit written comments to Customs on the proposed rule may do so by February 10, 2003.

Please contact George Tuttle, III, at geo@tuttlelaw.com if you have any questions regarding Customs’ 24-hour Cargo Manifest rule or other customs law matters.

George R. Tuttle, III, is an attorney with the Law Offices of George R. Tuttle in San Francisco. The information in this article is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship with respect to any event or occurrence, and may not be considered such.

 

Copyright 2003 by Tuttle Law Offices.

All rights reserved. Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. However, because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by our offices or by others, we do not guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information and are not responsible for any errors, omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of such information.

 

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