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Prenote peace?

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A couple of months ago, U.S. Customs attach Eric Couture told Truck News that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was in negotiations with the Food and Drug Administration to harmonize the prenotification requirements of both ag...


WASHINGTON, D.C. – A couple of months ago, U.S. Customs attach Eric Couture told Truck News that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was in negotiations with the Food and Drug Administration to harmonize the prenotification requirements of both agencies.

It appears now that the deal is well on its way to being done.

The FDA issued a press release April 14 announcing its intention to increase integration between the two agencies.

The differing time frames for advance reporting of goods destined to cross into the U.S., has long been a sore point for carriers, especially for those who specialize in LTL and mixed loads.

While CBP will soon require mandatory electronic reporting of goods one hour to 30 minutes (for FAST shipments) in advance of arrival at the border, the FDA implemented its time frames for reporting (two hours before arrival at the border) Dec. 12.

Now it appears there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

According to its press release, the FDA is considering shortening its advance notice time frames to match those of CBP.

The FDA and CBP plan to do the following in order to determine whether this is feasible:

– Aug.12 to Oct. 12, 2004: Assess existing procedures and staffing needed to receive, review and respond to the prior notices submitted in accordance with FDA requirements.

– Oct. 13 to Nov. 12, 2004: Identify what changes to work practices and staffing would be required if FDA were to reduce its time frames (e.g. one hour/30 minutes before arrival at the border by road).

– Nov. 13 to Feb. 12, 2005: Implement necessary changes and adjustments to ensure the FDA can receive, review and respond to all prior notice submissions with reduced timeframes.

– March 2005: Issue a prior notice final rule in response to comments received about the FDA prior notice requirements, including the plan to reduce the time frames.

Cooperation required

The FDA emphasizes in its press release that the decision to reduce and harmonize time frames with those of the CBP will entirely depend on the FDA’s ability to receive, review and respond to prior notice submissions, as well as the industry’s own cooperation in the submission of prior notice within the existing time frames.

Other areas where the FDA and CBP are planning to integrate are as follows:

– Moving the FDA’s prior notice staff into the CBP’s National Targeting Center in Reston, Va.;

– Further refinement to FDA’s targeting rule sets in CBP’s Automated Targeting System, as well as further training of staff in targeting techniques;

– Continued targeting support from CBP and other federal law enforcement analysts at the National Targeting Center; and

– Enhancement of communications and cooperation with CBP to facilitate information exchange and ensure speedy access to food subject to prior notice holds.

There is no mention in the press release, however, of whether the FDA plans to increase staffing at border crossings on the weekends or at least allow CBP officials, who are authorized to inspect FDA regulated loads, to clear them for release as well.

Crossings like the one at Fort Erie/Buffalo are particularly problematic.

That’s because, while 55 per cent of the load brokers there are considered “dual mode” – that is they must provide load clearing documentation to FDA agents both on paper and by computer – FDA staff do not work at the crossing on weekends.

FDA loads relying on paper transactions that attempt to cross are held at the border until an FDA agent arrives Monday, or allowed through on the proviso that the trailer not be opened until it is inspected by an FDA agent at its destination.

To further complicate matters, some customers won’t even allow a load that hasn’t been cleared to sit in their yards.

Never mind the loads flagged for an inspection by an FDA agent at a border crossing where there are none.

According to one industry insider, the scarcity of FDA staff at ports on weekends (they are available at some ports but their availability is unpredictable because they’re working overtime) has resulted in such extreme instability in the food transportation industry that some plants on either side of the border have actually closed down.

The trickledown effect is extreme – load delivery becomes unpredictable, use of labor and capital becomes inefficient, costs of leasing or rental of trailers and trucks increases, revenue is lost, consumer confidence is diminished, JIT disruption means customers have to make room for extra storage at their warehouses, trailer pool use becomes problematic, detours to ports where FDA agents are available are costly, drivers and carriers incur added costs waiting, and so on.

How to comment

Regardless, the FDA has already started to mete out fines for prior notice violations – official enforcement of prior notice rules started May 13.

For more information on FDA prior notice rules, visit www.trucknews.com and click on the Border Legislation button.

Meanwhile, the FDA has announced a reopening of the comment period for the interim final rules for facility registration and prior notice.

To comment, visit www.cfsan.fda.gov/~news/whatsnew.html.

The joint FDA/CBP plan for increasing integration and assessing prior notice timelines is available at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~pn/pnplan.html


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