U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) hosted a conference call with the Trade this afternoon to discuss the current status of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and its effect on Cargo and Port Operations.
CBP began by stating that previous proclamations regarding the restriction of travelers do not include restrictions on cargo and that there should be no impact on cargo from regions restricted by said proclamations. This also applies to the recent agreement made between the Canadian and U.S. government to close the Northern Border to non-essential travel. Cargo is considered essential and therefore should not be subjected to additional screenings or potential slowdowns. A Federal Register notice is scheduled to be published tomorrow morning that will define essential travel. This will outline those who cross the border for essential reasons, such as medical personnel, humanitarian aid, critical infrastructure, etc. At the border, discretion is being given to Officers for certain edge cases.
As for the state of border crossings, passenger land border traffic is down significantly. In Buffalo and Detroit, traffic is down 70% and 65% respectively. At this time, commercial traffic has remained steady but CBP does anticipate a drop in Detroit and Laredo. CBP is not expecting reductions in staffing at the Northern Border, though as many locations are operating under extended hours or are 24/7, it may be appropriate to reduce to core hours to utilize resources more strategically.
Just as the Northern Border has been closed to non-essential travel, a formal essential-only announcement should be coming soon for the Southern Border. Just like the Northern Border closing, there will be no restrictions on cargo or expected personnel reductions.
On the call, CBP stated that they have chosen to close their Global NEXUS Enrollment Centers as a way to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The enrollment upon arrival is still operational for those who are flying internationally.
There have been no operational changes at Ports of Entry. CBP has encountered an uptick of personnel testing positive for COVID-19 and is now up to about 30 Officers who are in quarantine protocol. If a reduction of staff at ports becomes significant, ports have their own contingency plans.
The Office of Trade has been hard at work reviewing recommendations sent in by the Trade to help with the crisis. CBP thanked the NCBFAA and other associations for their submissions. One submission that was sent in by the NCBFAA, and a few other associations, related to duty drawback and a possible delay in duty payments. CBP understands the major impact this could have and is currently researching to see if the plan is feasible. In the meantime, CBP is considering case-by-case deferrals. To see if you qualify, you may email Randy Mitchell and CC your local entry specialist that you work with at the port. The agency hopes to have a more detailed plan in the next 3-4 days. If you would like to submit suggestions to CBP, you may do so using the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
The NCBFAA plans to participate in ongoing CBP held Trade calls and will relay all relevant information to our members as it comes to light.