Southern Shrimp Alliance Hails House Vote on Customs Enforcement

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 256 to 158 to agree to the Conference Report resolving differences between the Senate and House versions of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015.  The vote moves a bill substantially improving trade enforcement measures into the final stages of becoming law, with the Senate expected to take up the Conference Report this week.

The legislation agreed to through Conference by the two legislative chambers retains an emphasis on preventing illegal imports before they enter the U.S. market and harm domestic industries.  This approach was first proposed in the PROTECT Act jointly introduced in 2012 by Rep. Charles Boustany and Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana to address evasion of trade remedies that undermine relief granted to Gulf coast industries.

Although other priorities have captured Congressional attention over the last three years, the House Ways and Means Committee, through the leadership of Rep. Boustany, has steadfastly championed legislative enhancement to the government’s enforcement capacity in international trade.

The legislation voted on Friday:

*       Creates a new entity within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Trade Remedy Law Enforcement Division, that is responsible for directing enforcement and compliance activities for the agency and serving as the primary liaison between the agency and the public on the issue of evasion;

*       Charges the new Division with establishing targeted risk assessment methodologies and standards that will, among other things, result in the issuance of Trade Alerts to enhance monitoring and inspection activities at U.S. ports of entries;

*       Authorizes the new Division to collect information through questionnaires issued to parties in order to identify instances of evasion and, should parties fail to respond or otherwise refuse to comply with requests for information, permits the Division to make adverse inferences against the parties as part of its decision-making process;

*       Facilitates greater exchange of information within and amongst the various federal agencies responsible for administering the country’s trade remedy laws;

*       Instructs the new Division to provide technical assistance and advice to small businesses in the preparation and submission of allegations of evasion;

*       Obligates the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to seek to negotiate and enter into bilateral agreements with customs authorities of other countries to improve cooperation on the prevention of evasion of trade remedy laws;

*       Requires the U.S. Trade Representative to seek improvement of cooperation amongst customs authorities to prevent evasion of trade remedy laws as part of its principal negotiating objectives; and

*       Insures that U.S. Customs and Border Protection annually report to Congress on all of the agency’s activities to prevent and address trade evasion.

Moreover, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 additionally contains provisions endowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection with greater authority to address the fly-by-night importers that facilitate circumvention schemes, removes restrictions on the use of certain commercial data that can serve as early warning indicators of evasion and fraud, and requires Customs brokers to take more responsibility for validating the authenticity of importers whom they represent in import transactions.  Further, the legislation would eliminate a loophole in an eighty-five year old law prohibiting the importation of goods made by prison and slave, including child, labor that has rendered that prohibition almost entirely ineffective.

“The shrimp industry stands as a living example of the importance of the trade remedy laws to family-run businesses throughout the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic,” explained John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.  “We are thrilled to see Congress move ahead with legislation with innovative, effective, and comprehensive measures to prevent and counter trade evasion.  We are particularly grateful to Representative Charles Boustany, his staff, the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee, and all of the shrimp industry’s advocates in Congress that have helped move this legislation closer to reality.”

Review a summary of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 following Conference here:

Watch Rep. Charles Boustany’s comments on the House floor in support of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 here:

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