AFI Association of Food Industries

AFI Serving the U.S. Food Import Sector

2020: CBP Looking to Work Closer with Trade 

Mark Morgan
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

This article contains excerpts of a speech by Mark Morgan, acting commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, at the July 2019 CBP Trade Symposium.

Nineteen years ago, when U.S. Customs held the first trade symposium in Washington DC, there were only about six dozen attendees. Today, it is about 10 times that size. That’s all thanks to the thoughtful and productive interactions between CBP trade professionals and you, our trade stakeholders, at this event. You all provide significant and valuable perspective that helps CBP target our efforts in the trade space, and I thank you for that interaction. The Trade Symposium is so important for bringing together the top decision-makers in both industry and government – making sure that our dialogue is as robust and productive as possible. In fact, other countries view our interaction with trade stakeholders as a “best practice” – a model for this kind of engagement.

That said, most of you don’t know me. I’ve been at the helm of CBP for all of 16 days. However, this isn’t my first rodeo with CBP … I was honored to serve as Acting Assistant Commissioner for Internal Affairs – now called the Office of Professional Responsibility – and I was also Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.

I must acknowledge that I face a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the nuts and bolts of trade enforcement and facilitation. With the expert guidance of Executive Assistant Commissioner Todd Owen, EAC Brenda Smith and Office of Trade Relations Deputy Director Valarie Neuhart, I vow to make sure that CBP continues our close partnership with the trade community and to seize on opportunities and address challenges as they arise … in a transparent and real time manner.

This year, we are celebrating the 230th anniversary of U.S. Customs, so we have well over two centuries of experience in the trade arena. It is a proud legacy and it has contributed significantly to our country’s history and growth. 

We do so much more than most people might casually observe – and that especially applies to trade. From our import specialists to our auditors, from our Centers of Excellence and Expertise to our international trade specialists, from our CBP officers and agriculture specialists to our drawback experts, CBP’s trade responsibilities remain front and center in our daily operations.

Just look at the numbers. In Fiscal Year 2018, CBP processed more than $2.6 trillion in imports and nearly 28 million imported cargo containers through the nation’s ports of entry, an increase of 4.2 percent from FY 2017. CBP collected approximately $52 billion in duties, taxes and other fees in FY 2018, including more than $40.6 billion in duties, an increase of nearly 23 percent over the previous fiscal year.

These rising volumes are spurred, in part, by technology. E-Commerce, for example, is radically changing the face of the global supply chain, increasing its complexity and challenging all of us to stay ahead of the curve.

Let me briefly touch on my top commitments as acting commissioner. My first commitment to you is transparency. We know that being open about how and why we adopt certain rules and regulations will help your businesses and your bottom lines. Transparency protects the one thing we cannot afford to lose – and that is your trust. I am 100-percent committed to ensuring that CBP is as transparent as possible and I intend to make sure that transparency is not just a goal – I want it to be part of CBP’s very culture. We owe that to the stakeholders who place their trust in us, including from the trade community.

I want to make sure that when a decision is made, everybody understands why. To that end, I understand that CBP holds a weekly call with our trade stakeholders to keep them updated on the current status of trade operations as we work to manage the ongoing migration crisis. So, in the spirit of transparency, let me address this crisis for a few minutes, because I know it has had an impact on cross-border commerce.

This past March, CBP deployed 545 CBP officers from ports of entry along the Southwest border to support the U.S. Border Patrol with the care and custody of migrants. The initial reduction in Southwest Border port staffing caused CBP to reduce the number of open lanes at some of the Southwest Border POEs. In addition, CBP suspended Unified Cargo Processing at Santa Teresa, New Mexico and suspended weekend commercial cargo operations on one of the El Paso bridges. These actions led to increases in wait times for both commercial cargo and travelers. The average commercial cargo wait time at the top 10 Southwest Border POEs spiked to 88.1 minutes, a 283% increase over the 23-minute average for the same time a year ago.

CBP quickly responded, sending 300 more officers from various seaports, airports, and Northern Border land ports, letting the same number of officers who had been deployed to the Southwest border return to their home ports. In May, we deployed an additional 186 officers – bringing the total reallocation to 731. The average commercial cargo wait time at the top 10 Southwest Border ports of entry is now down to 24.6 minutes. This represents a 72% reduction from the initial spike that occurred in early April and is now only 11% percent higher than the same time last year. Of course, we want to continue to lower that number.

As DHS and CBP leadership has testified before Congress many times, we have real resource challenges, and we must always be ready to respond and prevent emerging threats.

I know the past few months have been painful for many of you – and, believe me, we share that pain -- because we want to serve you as efficiently as we can. We know the stakes are high. So, I pledge to you that we will share as much information as we can and that we will be as candid as possible.

That brings me to my second commitment, which is communication. We cannot effectively serve our country if we do not effectively communicate our policies. The late Lee Iacocca said, “You can have brilliant ideas but if you can’t get them across, those ideas won’t get you anywhere.” That is as true in the government arena as it is in the business realm. CBP is steadfast in its commitment to communicating with you, not just talking at you.

Effective communication is dialogue – a two-way channel. We want to explain to you what our challenges and environment are, and then we want to listen to you about your challenges and your environment. Learning from each other and understanding how supply chains work and the risks associated with them – and then managing those challenges – will definitely support a stronger U.S. economy. I look forward to taking part in a great CBP tradition and that is our “Trade Day” sessions, when we invite members of the trade community to join us for productive discussions about the latest trade issues.

Since we are here in Chicago, let me note another truism – something that the great Chicago journalist, Sidney Harris, once said: “Information and communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is ‘giving out.’ Communicating is ‘getting through.’” That is spot on. CBP is thoroughly committed to “getting through,” … so that our stakeholders and partner government agencies never wonder what we are doing or why we are doing it. I want feedback – fearless feedback – from everyone involved.

That brings me to my third commitment: collaboration. CBP does not fly solo. We collaborate closely with our industry stakeholders through relationships with our advisory committees: COAC and the UFAC. CBP also maintains robust dialogue with associations representing everyone from brokers to importers, from exporters to express consignment companies, as well as all kinds of transport: airlines, trucking, rail, and maritime companies.

We also work closely with partner government agencies, including the FDA, the departments of Commerce and Transportation and many more. And we work with the Border Interagency Executive Council to ensure that trade runs as efficiently as possible.

Finally, our collaborative efforts extend into the international realm, reflected by our valuable partnerships with foreign governments and participation in the World Customs Organization and the Border Five.

Our meetings with our stakeholders are incubators for great ideas. Our Centers of Excellence and Expertise, for example – forged with the input and assistance of COAC – represent the very best aspects of government-industry partnership.

I want to emphasize that CBP is acutely aware of the dual nature of our trade mission: facilitation as well as enforcement. We must focus on both … because a single-minded emphasis on one or the other serves nobody’s interests in the end. In addition, I am committed to listening to you. This commitment is imperative for fostering the kind of collaboration, communication and transparency I have touched on here this morning.

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
(732) 922-3008 • Fax: (732) 922-3590 • •