If there are two constant refrains IWPA hears from the industry, it’s about increases in delays they are experiencing at our ports of entry and GSP. Both issues tie back to Congress – although in different ways.
GSP is perhaps the simplest problem because it already has an easy solution. The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)–established in 1974, it promotes economic development by eliminating duties on thousands of products when imported from designated beneficiary countries and territories. It also benefits American companies and consumers, as it allows businesses to receive a duty-free rate on specific products which then undergo further manufacturing here in the United States, providing jobs to Americans, and ensuring that consumers have the best choices. Unfortunately for many years GSP has been in a cycle of expiring, having to wait a year or more before being reauthorized retroactively. This is repeated in a frustrating cycle that leaves businesses with money they hope to receive but can’t count on. IWPA has always been a proponent of GSP, and now during the longest lapse in the program’s history, we continue to ask Congress to take this important issue up. Our hope is that by the time this article goes to print, Congress will have settled with priorities they will deal with in end-of-year packages and that GSP is among them.
The second issue is more complicated. IWPA staff receives frequent calls from companies who are frustrated with extended Lacey Act holds at ports. While the delays, which extend for several weeks or often months at a time, are frustrating enough on their own, too often they result in costly demurrage fees that eat into or eliminate any profit the importer could hope to book on a shipment of wood products. Importers are bounced between agencies as they seek to learn the nature of the alleged violation so that they can address it, and in some cases are even forced to relinquish shipments rather than go on fighting for years. Despite repeated requests to FWS, CBP, and APHIS, the agencies refuse to clarify the process, provide timelines, or even determine a main point of contact for importers.
Companies are left trying to figure out where they have erred, and sometimes never get to know.
As a result, the IWPA team is hard at work encouraging Congress or the Agencies to establish and follow a reasonable timeline for making Lacey Act enforcement decisions, inform the importer of the specific suspected violation, and allow for a response before proceeding with legal action. We continue to support keeping illegal wood products out of the supply chain, but IWPA also believes in fair enforcement. Importers should know the nature of any alleged violation and should be able to present evidence to the contrary. This will not only support American businesses but help whole supply chains and ensure that prosecutorial resources are spent on true bad actors.
This is a busy time for IWPA’s policy department, and we take seriously our position as the voice for the industry. If you’re interested in our work with Congress or the Agencies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone on the IWPA team.