Export distributors win time to make case against Customs rule
By Paola Iuspa
US Customs officials are deferring enforcement of an order to slash the time some international shipments can be stored in South Florida before being shipped abroad.
The US Food & Drug Administration has asked Customs officials to enforce a stricter nationwide regulation on products not approved by the administration.
The new level of enforcement has been postponed until Feb. 1 instead of Nov. 9 as originally planned, said Lauren Perez, a trade adviser with Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, representing USA Global Distributors Alliance. Some alliance members are importers, exporters, bonded warehouses owners and freight forwarders who will be hurt by the change, which they say could cost 4,500 jobs and $200 million in lost rent in South Florida.
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have been exempt from the nationwide rule since 1994, attracting many businesses looking for a re-distribution center for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Roger Madan, president of Florida Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association, said the deferral will give the industry time to build a stronger case and persuade FDA officials to reconsider.
"It gives us time to figure out what we are going to do next," said Mr. Madan, also president of Air Marine Forwarding. "It gives time to the legal people to prepare a good argument to get this procedure eliminated or altered."
The change would require drugs, medical equipment perfumes and cosmetics rejected by the FDA to be exported or destroyed within 90 days. It would also prevent breaking down a shipment for sale to multiple buyers. Currently, for-export products are allowed to remain in bonded warehouses for up to five years and shipments can be broken into smaller shares to be sold to different countries.
After months of discussion with FDA officials, the alliance got good news when Zachary Mann, a Customs spokesman, said Robert McNamara, director of Customs Field Operations, agreed to delay the deadline in response to the trade community's concern.
Ms. Perez said the FDA wants to learn more about how the international trade community operates in South Florida before applying the 90-day rule.
"They want to become educated," she said. "The more they know about us, the more the can do to interpret the statue in a way that will protect the industry."
Ms. Perez said members of the alliance understand the need for tightening control at the borders and they supported those efforts.
"We want to show them we agree with that legitimate need," she said. "People in Miami also want to protect the borders and have no need to bring into the county contaminated products. That is not what they do."
To prove that point, she said, the group, which meets regularly, is preparing a presentation that will detail how merchandise is stored and handled in bonded warehouses before being shipped to other markets.
They will present the information to FDA officials in Washington, she said.
After the announcement last week, some business owners said they also stopped looking around for new locations. Many had said they would move their operations to Panama if the change took place.
Saday Rivera, a traffic manager with Nipro Medical Corp., which has about $1 million worth of disposal medical supplies stored, said the corporation might resume looking for a new place in January if Customs begins enforcing FDA's rule in February.
"We are going to wait until January," she said. "If the directive goes through, we will not be able to continue operating here."
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