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HFPA's Leo covers cargo security

At the Home Fashions Products Association's annual meeting last week Robert Leo, partner in Meeks & Sheppard as well as the association's counsel, explained the intensification of cargo security on the part of U.S. Customs.

Late in 2001, Customs introduced the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, a joint initiative between government and business to strengthen supply chain and border security.

As Leo explained the program, it reaches from the retailer back to the subcontractor or a remote contractor in any offshore country.

The burden of proof of the security of their programs falls on the shoulders of the importer, Leo maintained. The program to date is voluntary, but Leo believes it will become mandatory by yearend.

Senior management of firms involved with importing must be aware "that Customs places the ultimate responsibility for compliance on the importer. Failure to satisfy Customs creates significant financial exposures in the form of added duties or missed duty savings in addition to legal exposure, Leo advised.

To date, he explained, key retailers such as JCPenney and Target have notified their suppliers that they expect them to participate in the program. Others especially interested, but not yet committed, he said, include Wal-Mart and Sears.

C-TPAT offers importers a more secure supply chain, reduced number of inspections, an assigned account manager and the ability to participate in the Customers Regulatory Audit Importer Self-Assessment Program (ISA).

According to Leo, "If you join you will be processed within 24 hours; if not, merchandise on the same ship will be subject to delays — and there are only a certain amount of C-TPAT officers available."

In addition, Leo noted, "Manifest information needs to be done 24 hours before the shipment is put on the carrier."

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