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Diplomacy in Action

DHS Response to a Proposal from Jim Campbell Concerning Revised Customs Control for Postal Items


Mr. Campbell’s proposed amendments attempt to apply the customs provisions of the PAEA to the UPU but in a different way – by categorizing commercial items in the way that PAEA classifies “competitive” products. Similarly, his proposal seeks to apply simplified customs procedures to similar “postal” shipments to all shipments that are not commercial in nature. These proposals seek to level what is perceived to be an unlevel playing field in the area of customs treatment between postal and similar shipments carried by private companies, and to have customs authorities apply customs laws in the same manner to equivalent shipments.

The PAEA calls for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to apply customs laws in the same manner. In one sense, the customs laws of the United States are applied equally, since mail shipments (whether inbound, outbound, or in transit) are subject to all customs and other U.S. laws enforced by CBP. CBP has interpreted the intent of the provision, however, to apply the same regulations and procedures to “competitive” products, namely EMS and parcels. In response, CBP and the USPS implemented an electronic export declaration system for outbound EMS and parcel post items. This was done because the USPS controls this process, so the change was to the process – the legal status of mail was not altered.

For inbound mail, CBP has been working with the USPS, USPIS, UPU, WCO, and several partner administrations to implement an electronic pre-advice system for mail packages. These efforts have been steady, and a number of pilots are planned for 2012, based on existing messaging standards that CBP would like to see adopted worldwide. Effecting change from a manual, paper-based process to an electronic one for postal operators is challenging, but CBP, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a whole, sees this as the major improvement that needs to be made to the international mail supply chain. At this juncture, the plan is to implement an electronic screening system for customs and aviation security purposes, beginning with EMS and parcels but eventually covering small packets as well.

DHS agrees that there should be no distinction made on incoming packages due to USPS or UPU rates or mail classification, but because of the universal service obligation incumbent upon posts, there are no immediate plans to change the legal status of mail shipments. The goal is to improve the security of the international mail supply chain through various improvements, including the provision of advance data for targeting and risk management purposes. There is no intention to offer a simplified procedure to any other mode.

Concerning Mr. Campbell’s specific proposals to the Convention:

1 – No comment since there is no change.

2 – DHS is advocating for global standards for electronic messaging and the POC (through the Standards Board and the Customs Group) has been heavily involved with these efforts. DHS believes that the POC should support UPU members by providing the tools (messaging standards, system interfaces, capacity building, etc.) necessary to comply with security requirements determined by the relevant authorities in the United States and elsewhere.

DHS has no objection to 2.1. Paragraph 2.2 is acceptable as long as this does not interfere with advance data requirements by the U.S. or other governments. Paragraph 2.3 would only be relevant if designated operators wish to assume liability for the information provided to CBP, and this would mean that the items would be entering under a different set of requirements, i.e. express consignment, and would need to meet all applicable requirements. Paragraph 2.4 would only be applicable to UPU requirements to help its members meet security requirements prescribed by customs or other security authorities.

3 – DHS does not agree with this because mail is limited to those items exchanged as part of the universal service obligation. ETOE items are not in fulfillment of that obligation, as far as is understood by CBP, and are handled as cargo.

4 – It is difficult to ascertain whether an item is commercial in nature, but CBP has the discretion to require a formal entry on any item, which effectively removes the item from the mail clearance process. In addition, once electronic pre-advice becomes the norm for all packages, commercial items will be subject to similar reporting requirements as other modes and easier to identify.

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