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Interview With an Expert

Matt Haffner, Regional Vice President of Customs Brokerage, looks back on 2023 and keys us into a few of his department’s initiatives moving forward into the new year.

What are some standout developments in the brokerage sector that you and your team saw in 2023?

In terms of increased activity and active development, I think there has been a clear uptick in investigations on potential antidumping and countervailing duty violations. That being said, I think some of the most interesting takeaways from 2023 have to do with policies that have not seen much development. For example, the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) has been expired since December 31st, 2020. I don’t think the trade preference program has gone this long without being renewed, or even voted on for that matter, since it was established in 1974. It still doesn’t seem to be on the agenda in Congress. Similarly, many sanctions on China leftover from the previous administration have not been adjusted in any way. A lot of experts in our field expected some movement on those sanctions and tariffs initially, but at this point it is very unlikely that anything will change this close to 2024 election.

Are there any significant brokerage developments you see on the horizon in either late 2023 or early 2024?

There are two very consequential policy issues we are following very closely and have been following for some time now. The US government consistently updates what’s required to be a qualified and trusted broker, and they have yet to release final official guidance on two of those updates. The first change has to do with Power of Attorney and how that process will be validated moving forward. The second change has to do with requirements for licensed brokers to continue their education and stay up to date with all certifications and qualifications. The final rules on these adjustments have been published, but pending final guidance has to do with enforcing and practically applying these new rules. Our team has always operated well above the minimum qualifications mandated by the US government, so these changes will likely have zero impact on our operations.

What is your New Year’s resolution going into 2024?

Our New Year’s resolution for 2024 is to communicate and collaborate more with our clients. Whether we’re providing traditional brokerage services or offering expert consultation, my team is eager to help as many importers as possible. Many importers are not aware of our entire suite of brokerage options and the true span of services and solutions we offer. Moving forward, we want help more importers minimize brokerage costs. With all of the tariffs and “tariff wars”, sanctions, sourcing changes, and evolving regulations impacting our industry right now, even importers with reliable brokerage services should get another set of eyes on their operation to ensure they do not miss any opportunity to save money through the brokerage process. And if they find that their existing strategy is working perfectly, this will give them even more peace of mind.

What is one piece of advice that you would give importers as we turn the calendar?

Talk to expert brokers. I know it sounds simple, but it’s actually extremely important for your business. In this context, it can be helpful to think of us as accountants during tax season. Some do-it-yourselfers try as best they can with claims and deductions, but with as much government regulation and bureaucracy as there is involved with international customs, it’s always best to consult with an expert. OEC in particular has decades-long relationships with customs offices around the world, we’re well-known and established in the space, and clearance protocols are second nature to our licensed team. If you communicate more with a great broker, then you can be sure that your brokerage plan is as efficient and effective as possible while staying in strict compliance with all governmental laws.  

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