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Importers: Planning for the Year Ahead

Import businesses have had some relatively strong headwinds in recent years because the [[Ahfe7DXD4UCMRDrgMiD7YA:weaker U.S. dollar]] has made imports more expensive. Also, the U.S. government offers few incentives for importers, and people constantly hear that they’re better off supporting local goods and services.

At the same time, there’s more interest than ever in other cultures and international trade, which is good news for importers — especially small importers. In fact, small- to medium-sized businesses made up 97 percent of U.S. imports in 2010. That same year, small- to medium-sized businesses imported about $530 billion worth of goods, up 23 percent from 2009.[1]

A Hot Issue in the Coming Year

So what are some major issues importers need to be aware of in the coming year? Trade regulations will be critical in the next few months, as the Obama administration continues to implement broad-based reform pertaining to a wide range of international trade rules.

“Regardless of the size, the big differentiator in whether you succeed or fail is knowing your products and understanding the controls and global trade requirements.”

— Beth Peterson, president of BPE Global

“Regardless of the size of the client, the big differentiator in whether you succeed or fail is knowing your products and understanding the controls and global trade requirements,” says Beth Peterson, president of BPE Global, a trade compliance consultancy based in San Francisco.

First, companies should ask U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a shipping expert or an international trade consultant what documents they need to get their goods clearly described and cleared through customs, she says. Next they should identify certain government agency requirements and whether they need special approval. Finally, they should find out what government declarations they need to file and who’s going to file them.

“What we find with a lot of small companies is they create a sales invoice and they just let their products go,” she says. “Many businesses don’t even think about compliance.” When importers are unfamiliar with their governments’ rules and regulations, the odds increase that their products will get held up in customs.

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Retain the Services of Others

Salvatore Meleleo, president of US Import Consultants, a New Jersey-based customs broker, says it’s imperative for international businesses to hire an international trade lawyer or trade consultant who can help them navigate the thicket of trade rules. Import businesses can also consult the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which in addition to lending services, has a wealth of information for small businesses that are importing and exporting goods through its Global Access for Small Business program. “You’d be surprised how many times I get a call from somebody who already has a shipment at the port and doesn’t have the right documentation to clear it,” he says.

Meleleo also says it’s important to make sure businesses know exactly what is included in their shipment, and the rules that apply specifically for that product. For example, he recently had a client who was importing a full container of wine. The container also included a small amount of coffee and less than five pounds of sugar that the importer had intended to use as a sample.

“The whole container got held up in customs because of the sugar,” he says, since it turned out that at the time a U.S. sugar quota had already been filled. “If the importer is not doing the due diligence and talking to the suppliers and making sure he knows exactly what’s on the shipment that sails, he’s technically liable.”

Likewise, importers should work with a trusted online foreign exchange provider that has the resources and expertise to help navigate the risks and opportunities associated with currency value fluctuations. By [[IiyRtXMhG0S6b56M9Zv7dQ:preparing for rises and falls in currency value]] ahead of time, it’s possible to leverage importers’ purchasing power.

By assembling a team of knowledgeable advisors — including an international trade lawyer, consultant and foreign exchange provider — importers can pave the way to avoid complications and grow sales in the New Year.

[1]“Small & Medium-Sized Exporting Companies: Statistical Overview, 2010,” U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Association

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