The Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency wants to implement a product code system at the Port of Guam. It is seeking the support of the Guam Chamber of Commerce and funding from the federal government.

A product code system would take the guesswork out of the process for customs officers.

Col. Ricardo C. Blas director of Guam Customs; said that Guam Customs had been trying to implement a Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System generally referred to as a Harmonized System or HS for the past 20 years but the Guam Chamber of Commerce had traditionally opposed it. Blas said "Federal law requires that we implement it."

Lt. Gerard V. Aflague acting assistant chief for the Logistics and Support Division of Guam Customs and Quarantine; told the Journal "Eloise Baza president of the Guam Chamber of Commerce; has given us her commitment that we would have time with Michael T. Benito general manager of Payless Supermarkets and chairman of the chamber; to sit down with him and discuss it."

He said HS is used throughout most of the developed world. "Over the last decade more developing countries have implemented HS because the level of technology that is available to implement this system has increased. The World Customs Organization developed this system as a way to better report from point to point what the commodity is."

HS is a multipurpose international product nomenclature. It comprises about 5 000 commodity groups each identified by a six-digit code arranged in a legal and logical structure and it is supported by well defined rules to achieve uniform classification.

"We are at a point now where we need to convince the [Guam] Chamber of Commerce that times have changed. Now globally it is used in many countries and by many shippers. The fear in the past of how it was to be implemented and how people were to code their commodities as it made its way to Guam no longer becomes an issue like it was in the past. Now it is the standard. When big companies make orders the systems that they have automatically generate these codes. We need our stakeholders’ buy-in because without it it would be difficult for us to successfully implement it and funding needs to be identified to make sure that we have sustainability throughout the years " Aflague said.

He said that a true source of funding has yet to be identified. "We are looking at several options. We are looking at grants through the Department of Interior the Department of Homeland security and possibly implementing fees per-customs-lodging of declarations to be able to pay for the system."

Aflague said the HS is on the radar of Guam Customs. "Guam Customs sees the very important need to implement it. Now it is at the stage where it’s attempting to make the honest effort to do the legwork and see it through. If not implemented correctly it could end up stifling trade."

Commodity lists manifests and invoices at the port are manually reviewed. Clearance is based upon each officers understanding of the law and what is considered to be regulated. "That is how we manage the review of goods. It’s almost all manual " Aflague said.

Joel M. Quitugua account executive for Approved Forwarders of Guam; said "I think harmonized coding would be a huge benefit."

He said consistent clearance policies would also smooth the departure of freight from the port.

"The whole process at the port can be made efficient if every rotation is consistent with its policies. If they have standard operating procedures for cargo clearance down at the port "" if they are trained properly and every time an officer is rotated down there they follow those set of standard procedures "" then I think we’ll be fine."

Quitugua said clearance consistency had long been an issue at the port. "For a long time they have been trying to make the policies or operating procedures "" specifically to the port "" more consistent so they’ll have officers stay and rotate the junior officers but once that supervisor goes to another division of customs the procedures change. It makes it difficult for the forwarders to expedite their cargo because certain officers have a certain way of doing things. For the most part consistency is the key. If they are consistently trained and consistently reminded of the policies put in place I think we’ll be alright whether or not they implement the harmonized coding system." Quitugua suggested a lengthier study time for the maritime and cargo expedition part of the training for customs officers.

"All delays are related to later dock times of the vessels. It’s a matter of intense communication on both sides of the water. Customs is really trying to be consistent. The fact that they are putting in policies and procedures "" to follow the letter of the law "" is a good thing. It might cause some trouble now but it is the way it should have been. As long as we know what customs requires of us we can provide it to them."

Eric Bell vice president and general manager of Triple B Forwarders; told the Journal "The problem is nothing is automated so it doesn’t matter if an HS is implemented. It’s all a manual system. Right now all the harmonization would do is add a burden to all the importers. If there was a way we could do electronic customs filings then a harmonized system starts to make a lot of sense. In an un-automated system I personally don’t see the benefit of harmonization."

Joseph A Rios manager of sales and customer service for Matson Navigation Co.; said "We need to find the main purpose of customs implementing that system. If the HS is implemented you have a requirement that will be imposed on the shipper of these goods to figure out a way to track or assign each of those codes to every single commodity that is shipped."

He said customs needs improvement in processing customers more efficiently. Currently the paper process can be replaced with an online method of clearing cargo. U.S. Customs approves all shipments online. "It would make the process more efficient at the counter and the officers can focus more on their mission of preventing contraband from entering Guam and protecting our ports of entry.

"With the system now you deal with interpretations. When a certain rule is implemented it causes confusion within the business community because what was accepted in the past had changed because of an interpretation. We all want to be in compliance but it appears there is not enough time to understand what the current process is and give the stakeholders time to make changes in their process in order to be in compliance. A lot of changes require documentation from the states. In the meantime cargo sits in the port and doesn’t get to the stores " Rios said. MBJ