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Cassidy Promises AAEI Audience That Customs Modernization Bill Will Include Trade Facilitation

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told an audience at the American Association of Exporters and Importers conference June 15 that his discussion draft of a Customs modernization bill elicited some consternation, but that it was shared because he was trying to figure out "how do we get stakeholders in a good place so that we can have a customs modernization package?"

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Cassidy became interested in the issue because of his concern about trade-based money laundering, and he said he hopes changes to customs laws will ensure that goods are what the manifests say they are. "We've been working with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D-R.I.] on a comprehensive proposal to modernize the customs systems. The last significant effort to update Customs was almost three decades ago, when NAFTA passed," he said. "At that time, China's GDP was $450 billion. Today, the United States imports over $500 billion in goods from China alone. So we're trying to prevent a 21st-century illicit trade pattern with 20th century tools. Our Customs Modernization Act will secure the national and economic security, will enhance data integrity, will confront international adversaries and better... facilitate trade by using emerging technologies.

"This bill gives U.S. Customs the improved technology and the AI predictive analysis tools so they can screen better, screen and catch illicit imports from countries such as China. It also enables the use of new technologies, like a distributed ledger or blockchain, which will be a public blockchain."

Cassidy described the bill drafting as "an iterative process," and said he started by listening to CBP, then to businesses. He said he and his co-sponsor "plan to add trade facilitation, which we know industry needs to compete in this increasingly globalized environment." Some traders complained the first draft was imbalanced toward enforcement (see 2111150050 and Cassidy said early on that their concerns would be listened to (see 2112020032). "This is a working document, that, as we hear more from you and others, we're trying to make it where it needs to be."

In his Zoom appearance, he said his aim was to write a bill based on "a negotiated consensus" between industry, CBP and Congress. "We're working to create a law which balances our ability to trade with the tool that Customs ... needs to meet modern challenges. These negotiations are moving forward."

He said that consensus has been reached on changing record-keeping requirements, deemed abandonment, and information sharing from businesses to the government and vice versa. He acknowledged that the parties have not reached a meeting of the minds in other areas.

Cassidy also told the conference audience that he is in no hurry to introduce a bill, and that even if he does introduce it this year, it will not pass this year. He said he expects party control to change for 2023, and so there will be new committee chairs to lobby if traders want the bill to pass. "Frankly, I'm hoping that gives you time to think about how you're going to support" it, he said, which drew some chuckles from the audience.

Cassidy reassured the group that he wants to make sure the facilitation plank of the bill reflects commercial needs. "You can see all the backups at Long Beach, LA, and see what impact that's had upon a national economy. One thing we don't want is for the customs modernization to make things slower, and there's no reason it should."