Customs and Officially Securing Your Supply Chain

We previously talked to Erika R Waeckel, a director of Vandegrift, about third party suppliers of compliance tools. I asked her about other ways that a company could help make things easier on themselves with a minimal investment and she suggested enrolling in C-TPAT. I asked her to tell me more:

So Erika, welcome back to the blog. Tell me about C-TPAT.

C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) is probably one of the older trade initiatives out there and has always been a voluntary program. The purpose of C-TPAT is for companies to ensure the security of their international supply chains from possible terrorism by implementing and adhering to C-TPAT’s established criteria and guidelines. Historically the program was supported by large-scale importers in the retail sector. But today there are members both small and large spanning across various industries participating in the program.

And why is that? What are the benefits?

We all have heard certification is comparable to an “EZ Pass” through any port of entry, that a certified company will see a reduction in examinations, receive “first in line” status if supply chain disruptions should occur, and granted reduced waiting times at the border. These are true. However, there are many other benefits that are perhaps harder to quantify in terms of data or dollars.

For instance, market viability. Suppose you supply the “big guy” who happens to be C-TPAT compliant. While it is not mandatory, a C-TPAT member must ensure that its partners pose minimal security risk to its supply chain, thus the “little guy” is put in a position where it must create an internal security criteria to adhere to even bid or win business.

It is also important to consider your brand image, and demonstrating good corporate citizenship.

A colleague of mine once stated, “It is not the destination, but rather the journey.” Becoming C-TPAT certified is not only about securing your cargo, but also your personnel, your data, and process improvement. Regardless of the benefits that Customs provides, by going through this process, you will hopefully have peace of mind and come to feel more secure about the security of your entire supply chain.

Ok, if we want to do this, how to we start?

There are several avenues an importer can take to begin the C-TPAT process, but a great place to start is with your customs broker. Most brokers are C-TPAT members themselves, however some might offer more comprehensive C-TPAT services than others. For instance, there are brokers within the industry that will provide end to end service by establishing communication and vetting your vendors, creating survey questions, analyzing responses, and preparing corrective action plans. Some will even provide ongoing internal staff training and prepare procedural manuals. Once certification is achieved, depending on how extensive your broker’s service offerings are, they should be able to assist in the maintenance of this program as well by addressing any C-TPAT related concerns, reviewing and onboarding any new partners, and offering resolutions when problems arise.

If your broker is unable to assist, there are companies that specialize in global supply chain security, specifically in regards to C-TPAT certification. There are even innovative and customized software solutions in the market to help efficiently manage the process, complete with automated reporting capabilities and C-TPAT history tracking. A 3rd party or intermediary however is not required to apply for the C-TPAT program. Any entity can review the outlined criteria to determine eligibility and then apply via the C-TPAT portal.

And if you are an exporter, you might find benefits with their Mutual Recognition program, where membership in C-TPAT might get you favorable positioning in other countries—including Canada, Mexico, Japan, the EU, and many others.

And if we want to learn more?

Well as noted, start with your current broker. Googling C-TPAT will get you links to plenty of service providers who will help. We will too, of course. And you can always go direct to Customs: https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/ports-entry/cargo-security/ctpat

It’s definitely a program worth investigating!

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