Importing Is Not for Dabblers

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” said an attendee at the last Due Care training sponsored by the IWPA (in Atlanta in August 2021). He was new to importing. I don’t mean this disrespectfully, since he’s a really smart businessman, super nice, and an absolutely ethical guy, but he is what I call a Dabbler.

An importing Dabbler is someone who doesn’t look at importing as his primary business. He’s a retailer or a construction company or an installer or a small distributor. He sees a chance to get something a bit cheaper by going directly to an overseas factory and just places an order. It’s a supplement to his main business and he treats his overseas purchase just the way he would a domestic order. He looks at quality and price and lead time, etc.; and if they match his needs, he’s good to go. He’s not an intentional bad actor. He is an amateur; and he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

The Dabbler probably doesn’t know that he can’t use “spp” on a PPQ 505. He probably isn’t aware of the required boilerplate language for TSCA related products. He may not know about the labeling requirements for origin. He may not be aware of the rules for transferring certification claims and the rules for his use of a program logo that the mill has earned. He might not know about patent issues and IP claims. HTS codes are a mystery that “my broker takes care of.” He almost certainly doesn’t have due care SOPs for vetting supply chains for Lacey or forced labor or any of the other issues a quality professional importer focuses on.

And he doesn’t realize that he’s risking his primary business with this side gig. It is not only the potentially huge financial costs of a Customs enforcement, it’s the reputational risk if he’s found dealing with illegal wood, something outside of TSCA or something produced with force labor.

They say that the first step towards solving a problem is recognizing you have a problem. This means it’s really tough to help Dabblers because they don’t even know that they have a problem.

Every one of the flooring companies at the IWPA Due Care training was a member of the NWFA. Several said “I wish the NWFA had told me this.” Well…the NWFA did. This blog (with a few breaks!) has been trying to educate Dabblers (as well as professional importers and U.S. manufacturers and retailers and just about anyone in the industry) since 2010. The NWFA has offered panels at Expos. There have been articles in the magazine. The news has been out there. The problem is that because a Dabbler doesn’t know what Lacey (and other regulatory requirements) are, they don’t know that they should be reading a blog or attending a panel or taking training…

Do you know a Dabbler out there? Someone who buys a container here and there? Someone who says “it’s OK, I’m just buying from one guy, it’s not like I’m really an importer.” Or maybe “it’s OK, I know the supplier” or “it’s from Germany/Canada/Mars, so it’s fine,” or “they have lots of certifications so I’m sure it’s no problem,” or “the big guys buy from them and they must know it’s OK,” or use some other explanation for not worrying about the business. If you hear these phrases, get that Dabbler some help! None of those statements are standards of Due Care.

To all your Dabblers out there, you need to know that importing is not a safe space for the uninformed and ignorance is definitely not going to lead to bliss.

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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