Shutdown could stymie shipping, stall food inspections

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
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MIAMI - The Journal of Commerce reports that a partial government shutdown lasting more than two weeks could be "catastrophic" for importers, creating a backlog of shipments at U.S. ports of entry.

That's because some shipments need federal agencies to sign-off on paperwork or process inspections.

Spokespeople from PortMiami, Port Everglades and Miami International Airport said Tuesday they haven't yet seen delays.

Attorney Robert Becerra, whose practice concentrates on import and export issues, said problems at ports of entry could lead to gridlock.

"I liken it to traffic on I-95," he said. "When everybody is driving fast, commuting is easy. But when just a few cars start slowing down, or motorists start rubbernecking to look at someone stopped on the side of the road, you all of a sudden have gridlock. Ultimately, if the shutdown continues more than a short period, that is something we will have at the sea and airports — gridlock."

Becerra added that the Food and Drug Administration may have problems during the shutdown.

"The FDA has furloughed about 45 percent of its staff during the government shutdown. As a result, FDA inspectors are not performing routine food inspections, sampling and testing. No one is available to investigate outbreaks and perform tracing through the supply chain of foods suspected of making people ill or worse. If the government shutdown continues past a short period of time, this can be highly destructive to the safety and integrity of our imported food supply in the United States. In regard to international trade, the government shutdown leaves Customs and Border Protection shorthanded. Although they will continue clearing cargo, they will do it slower than usual and not within their mission of facilitating trade. Sooner or later the shutdown will cause logjams in the international trade supply chain that is vital to the retail and wholesale industries in this country, that gets the consumer their products safely and when they want it at the stores."

"FDA imports entry screening is operating and being conducted at expected levels. However, the examination, sampling, and laboratory analysis of imported products is limited due to the impact of the shutdown," said Steven Immergut, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration.

Lenny Feldman said the shutdown is already impacting both new and existing transactions. Feldman worked for U.S. Customs & Border Protection for nine years and is now a Managing Member of the Miami Office of the customs and trade law firm of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A.

"During my twenty plus years as a customs and international trade attorney I have never witnessed a government shutdown have such an effect on international trade," he said. "Many vital government websites that importers, exporters and their service providers use daily for accurate information have simply been shut down. The Federal Maritime Commission is unable to accept new applications or complete pending applications to allow companies to become licensed as freight forwarders or consolidators and commence businesses they have been planned of months. The staff at U.S. Customs and Border Protection responsible for issuing rulings and decisions on both prospective and on-going import transactions has been furloughed. Likewise the Bureau of Industry and Security is unable to issue similar guidance on exports. This just leaves many good, hard-working businesses people involved in international commerce without the support and guidance they need to run their operations in a compliant manner. This will increasingly take a toll on the South Florida trade community."

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