CUSTOMS AIMS TO BE 'CUSTOMER-FRIENDLY'

Byline: Michael McNamara

NEW YORK--Textile and apparel importers got a dose of good news here from two U.S. Customs Service officials, who said their department is trying to become more "customer-friendly."
The two were Samuel H. Banks, Customs' assistant commissioner for commercial operations, and Stuart Seidel, director of international trade, compliance division. They participated in a panel discussion at the sixth annual Textile and Apparel Trade and Transportation Conference held last week at the Marriott Marquis Hotel here.
Customs, they reported, is in the midst of reorganizing, and it's a move that will result in the elimination of about 300 non-necessary middle-management personnel, redirect resources to the country's 301 ports of entry and reward those firms that "play by the importing rules" with easier entry procedures.
The one-day conference was sponsored by the U.S. Association of Importers of Textile and Apparel (USA-ITA) and the American Import Shippers Association (AISA).
"We realized that we needed to change the way we do business," said Banks, who noted that the commercial operations unit is downsizing from seven regions and 42 district centers to 20 management centers throughout the country. The move should be completed by mid-1995.
"This will enable us," said Banks, "to redirect our resources and to better service the importers, especially those that have continuously complied with all of the rules."
Banks said the department will begin to utilize about 30 to 40 percent of its resources "to pre-arrival servicing of accounts."
"We used to only give about 5 percent of our resources to looking at the shipments before they arrived," Banks said. "Now, by giving that part a greater emphasis, we can make docking and entry the smoothest part of the process."
Seidel then went on to tell the group that importers that have shown stringent compliance with customs regulations could present such core data as value, classification and origin of incoming items via electronic entry, rather than by having all information put on a paper document.
"Although they still have to prove the value and where the goods were produced, we are not going to hold the goods up at port," Seidel said, who said the new method could go into effect as early as next April. "However, each importer must assert that they have taken 'reasonable care' in making sure that all information is correct."
Seidel added that customs will still assess stiff penalties to any firm that it finds in non-compliance. "You don't want to be found doing things improperly," he told the 200 or so importers and shipping executives in attendance.
Another panelist, Jim Kilgore, Levi Strauss' manager of customs and trade, said he talked with Customs officials about the new system, and added that it will "allow Customs to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys." Among the benefits of the new method will be reduced transit times, uniform treatment in all ports and the ability to clear goods at one port even though the goods may be coming in at another port. Goods arriving in Los Angeles or New York, for example, may be tallied in either port. "Our vision is the Gold Card for U.S. Customs Service," Kilgore said.
While importers were finding out about some of the benefits they may be able to get, their own organization revealed that it's going on-line.
Laura Jones, USA-ITA executive director, told the gathering that in a service begun this week, members will be able to access daily quota information through a modem. The information will be updated every morning at 9 a.m. Eastern time, and users may request quota information either by country or category. Quota data will be provided by International Development Systems, Washington, a USA-ITA member. IDS will invoice users on a quarterly basis at the rate of 15 cents per minute, on-line time.

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