Senator Cassidy’s Manifest Modernization Act Shines Light on Trade Cheats

On November 2nd, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced bipartisan legislation, the Manifest Modernization Act of 2023, that would bring transparency to the shipments of merchandise imported into the United States.

Under current law, bills of lading data regarding foreign shipments to the U.S. through ocean-going vessels are generally available to the public. These data allow the public to easily identify participants in risky supply chains. For example, through its access to these data, the Southern Shrimp Alliance was able to conclusively establish that massive volumes of Chinese-origin shrimp was being transshipped to the United States in order to evade the payment of antidumping duties as well as regulatory controls imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, ocean-going freight represents less than half of U.S. imports, with the remainder entering the United States through air, rail, and truck. For imports shipped to the United States through these transportation modes, there is no public release of manifest data. In result, there is no effective way to monitor goods that are initially shipped to Canada or Mexico before being entered into the United States.

The Manifest Modernization Act addresses this loophole by requiring the release of shipment information for vessels, aircrafts, and vehicles, while also ensuring that any sensitive personal information that might be included in manifests is not publicly disclosed. 

In addition, the Manifest Modernization Act would require the public release of information regarding both where the cargo was produced as well as the last country through which it was transported. Under current law, only the country-of-origin of the shipment is required to be publicly released. As the Southern Shrimp Alliance has reported, an increasing volume of shrimp harvested in Argentina and Ecuador is being shipped to China for processing before being exported to the United States. The country-of-origin for this shrimp is determined by where it was harvested rather than processed, meaning that U.S. consumers may be entirely unaware that the Argentine Red shrimp at their local grocery store was processed in a Chinese plant in Shandong or the Ecuadorian vannamei shrimp being served at an area restaurant was processed in a Chinese plant in Liaoning. 

Finally, the Manifest Modernization Act also requires the public release of the subheading of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) under which the cargo is classified. For the shrimp industry, this additional information will make it much easier to ascertain whether wild-caught shrimp from countries that are not certified by the U.S. Department of State under the Section 609 program is being shipped to the United States in violation of law.

“Once again, Senator Cassidy has developed and introduced legislation that corrects serious defects in our law that have undermined the trade relief won by the U.S. shrimp industry,” said John Williams, Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “The Southern Shrimp Alliance has spent years chasing down trade cheats only to see them change tactics and exploit whatever legal loopholes remain available. Thanks to Senator Cassidy’s and Senator Whitehouse’s tireless work to identify and address gaps in our law, the Manifest Modernization Act would shut these loopholes down.”

Read the press release of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) regarding the introduction of the Manifest Modernization Act here:

Review the text of the Manifest Modernization Act here:

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