When you’re trying to import into the U.S., it can feel like you have a million things to think about. You already have your hands full with clearing customs, dealing with cargo insurance, and setting up a logistics plan, but there’s something else you need to add to your mountain of responsibilities: Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) compliance. Just when you think you have everything in order to ship your goods, an overlooked PGA regulation could get your shipment stuck in customs. However, you don’t have to let these extra regulations disrupt your shipping schedule. Familiarize yourself with the different agencies before you ship, and you won’t ever get caught off-guard.
Complying with Partner Government Agencies’ regulations is easier now than ever before, with the assistance of the BIEC. After determining which agency regulates your commodities, you can submit all the required documents for CBP and each PGA in one place: the ACE Manifest System.
PGAs are government agencies, besides Customs and Border Protection (CBP), that regulate commodities entering the U.S. The types of commodities that each PGA regulates relates to the agency’s overall goals; for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the way food and drugs are manufactured, stored, shipped, and cleared through customs. However, it is up to CBP to enforce these regulations on behalf of their PGAs.
No matter what you’re shipping, you can be almost positive that your commodity falls under the jurisdiction of a PGA. Just about everything does, after all. The hard part is finding our which PGAs apply to your specific product, and how you can comply with those regulations!
CBP currently enforces regulations on behalf of more than 30 PGAs from a range of different departments. Some commodities are regulated by more than one PGA, and there are thousands of different factors involved that could impact whether your shipment is let through the border. Although not an exhaustive list, here are a few of the PGAs importers encounter most often when importing into the U.S.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the federal department in charge of protecting the health of American people. Naturally, this is the department that gets involved if your import involves dangerous chemicals, food, medications, and anything else that could potentially harm individuals or a large population.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an agency under the HHS, and it is responsible for placing regulations on food, medical products, cosmetics, tobacco, and believe it or not, electronic devices. All products being imported must meet the same quality standards that are applied to domestically manufactured goods. In addition to that, all products need to be unadulterated, approved for use, properly labeled, and permissible in order to be allowed through the U.S. border. Failure to follow the FDA’s rules typically results in immediate destruction of the goods in question.
Also under the HHS is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is the agency in charge of preventing the spread of disease in the U.S. In the case of importing, the CDC regulates the importation of infectious biological agents, materials known to contain an infectious biological agent, and animals known to carry diseases that are transmittable to humans, such as bats or insects. In order to import any of these types of commodities, importers need to acquire a CDC import permit, which is only granted if the CDC deems the commodities to be compliant with all regulations.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) the federal department tasked with protecting the public and controlling crime. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this department is the one responsible for shipments of firearms, and preventing drug trafficking.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) is an agency under the DOJ that has many responsibilities in the shipping industry. This is the agency involved with regulating the import of alcohol and tobacco products, to make sure that everything that enters the country is legally imported and meets the regulatory standards for commercial sale. In addition to that, it also restricts the sale of firearms and explosives, except for importers with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). If you're importing gun parts and accessories, you'll need to be aware of ATF regulations.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is another DOJ agency with responsibilities in regulating imports. The DEA established requirements for the secure storage and handling of controlled substances, as well as detailed recordkeeping. These tight regulations apply to drugs such as narcotics and central nervous system stimulants, because of their potential for abuse, addiction, and harm. Any importer wanting to import controlled substances would need to apply for a permit and follow extremely strict labeling and handling regulations, or else the DEA would confiscate the shipment.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a large department of the federal government that many shippers should be familiar with because of the scope of its responsibilities. Anything that has to do with shipping agricultural products and live organisms falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is an agency under the USDA that is tasked with keeping agricultural pests and diseases outside the U.S. Produce, wood, soil, animals, and any other agricultural commodity must be thoroughly examined and potentially treated to prevent the introduction of foreign pests to U.S. agriculture.
Another common USDA agency that importers often deal with is the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). This agency ensures that all meat, poultry, and egg products that are imported from other countries have undergone the same level of scrutiny and care that is the standard for domestic products. That applies to the standards of animal care, sanitary slaughtering, and processing of animals for food, and the FSIS maintains the right to audit all participating facilities and revoke import privileges if their standards are not met. All meat, poultry, and egg products will be inspected by FSIS workers at the port of entry as an added layer of security, even if those products come from an FSIS verified supplier.
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is another USDA agency that importers must know about. This agency regulates the labels on agricultural products and provides mandatory labeling requirements for a multitude of different products. It has specific laws for labeling organic products, seeds, perishable commodities, and more. Additionally, the AMS mandates printing certain information on agricultural labels, such as the country of origin, pesticides used, and contact information for the shipper and farmer. The AMS is also responsible for inspecting and grading imported produce on how closely it compares to domestically grown produce.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) is the department of the federal government that promoting economic growth in the U.S. However, it also has many other jobs relating to trade, such as preventing harmful trade practices and encouraging sustainable development. Although it is mostly focused on U.S. exports, it does occasionally get involved with imports as well.
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), is the agency under the DOC that regulates the international trade of fish and fish products, to reduce the risk of extinction for certain marine species. Failure to meet the standards of conservation required by the NOAA could result in importers being forever prohibited from shipping fish or fish products into the U.S.
The Department of Interior (DOI) has such a wide range of responsibilities that it is often referred to humorously as “the department of everything else.” However, in addition to all the other things they manage, such as Native American affairs, national parks, and public safety, the DOI is also known for regulating the environment, and endangered or invasive species.
The DOI contains the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is the agency responsible for regulating the import, export, and transport of endangered species. The FWS issues permits on occasion for importers to import exotic or endangered animals, but only with good reason. Similarly, products made from endangered animals, such as those made from ivory, whale teeth, tortoise shells, shark fins, coral, and exotic furs are strictly prohibited except under certain permitted circumstances.
The Department of the Treasury (DoT) is the executive department in charge of printing, collecting, and managing currency in the United States. It is the department responsible for both domestic and international fiscal policy for the U.S. in terms of importing, it collects taxes on shipments entering the U.S., and ensures that shippers are properly valuing their goods.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is an agency under the DoT, specifically tasked with regulating the legal sale and distribution of alcohol and tobacco products. The TTB collects taxes for the import and trade of alcohol, tobacco, and even firearms. The agency issues permits to import these commodities, and heavily regulates the domestic tobacco trade. In addition to that, all alcohol bottles must receive a certificate of label approval from the TTB’s Advertising, Labeling, and Formulation Division before they can be sold in the U.S. market.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is another department of the U.S. government. It is in charge of regulating everything relating to transportation, so naturally, shippers have to deal with DOT regulations frequently.
The agency that shippers are most likely to encounter is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA is the agency that regulates and enforces Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. It also issues licenses to manufacturers and importers of vehicles or vehicle parts, and prohibits the import of unregulated vehicle parts. If an importer attempted to import a vehicle or vehicle part without an NHTSA license, then the import would not be allowed through customs. This is to ensure that all vehicles in the U.S. comply with mandatory safety, emission, and fuel efficiency laws.
There are several other government agencies that play a role in regulating imports. These agencies are independent, meaning they do not belong to a larger department. However, that does not mean that they are any less of an authority in regulating products and enforcing laws.
One such independent agency is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This agency is responsible for regulating the import and sale of any device that emits radio frequencies. These frequencies could interfere with other devices, and as such, are regulated in the interests of public safety. Devices that fall under this classification include cellphones, microwaves, and medical imaging machines, including many others.
Another independent agency that importers need to be aware of is the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). This is the agency in charge of regulating consumer products to ensure they do not pose an unreasonable risk of harm to consumers. This includes products with a high likelihood of spontaneously igniting, experiencing electrical or mechanical failure, exposing users to chemicals, or those with unnecessarily sharp edges or dangerous moving parts.
Finally, there’s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is another independent agency, that regulates the import and safe transport of products that could harm the environment. This includes products such as ozone-depleting substances, pesticides, herbicides, toxic waste, dangerous chemicals, and fuels. Despite not being a cabinet department, the EPA has wide-reaching rights to issue permits and fines, as well as create regulations and strictly enforce them.
The Border Interagency Executive Council (BIEC) is an executive advisory board that is designed to coordinate regulatory efforts between the CBP and various PGAs. The board is represented by almost 30 different PGAs, all with the intention of improving customs processes and border safety.
The BIEC has a number of agendas for simplifying customs compliance, but the most notable for importers is their Single Window Sustainment Initiative. Each of the PGAs involved in the BIEC is expected to maintain and optimize information in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system, making it easy for importers to find information and electronically submit documentation for all the different agencies in the same place. By having the PGAs work together to maintain the system, data is able to be collected and shared much more easily.
In addition to that, the BIEC also aims to roll out its Global Business Identifier Initiative, which would allow businesses, supply chain players, and other corporate entities to be internationally identifiable much more easily. This would allow for better communication in the trade community, and it would make importing low-risk shipments easier. The council is also interested in streamlining international eCommerce, to make doing business with other countries simpler for small- to medium-sized businesses.
Getting a customs broker is the easiest way to be completely sure that you’re complying with all the applicable PGA laws relating to your shipment. This is especially true if you are new to importing, since it could be tremendously helpful to have an expert on your side to help you navigate the mess of acronyms and different government departments and agencies. Your customs broker would know exactly which PGAs regulate your commodities, and they could help to secure the proper permits and documentation to get your shipment through customs with little effort on your part. This way, you can ensure that you don’t make any mistakes while trying to figure out which laws apply to what products.
Working with a customs broker comes with additional benefits besides just complying with PGA laws. A customs broker can take over your entire shipment, and can act with the power of attorney to complete all the important paperwork on your behalf. They can complete tax documentation, organize invoices, ensure your shipment is properly labeled, be the point of contact between you, your supplier, and CBP, and even advocate for you if your shipment gets stuck in customs. In other words, working with a customs broker can make every step of the process easier.
If all these acronyms are starting to freak you out, USA Customs Clearance is here to help. Our licensed customs brokers have decades of experience working with Partner Government Agencies, and we’ve helped import everything from importing cars to children’s toys. No matter what you have to import, we have the knowledge and skills to make it quick, easy, and stress-free! We can help you with purchasing your customs import license and have duty drawback brokers that work closely with you.
If you aren’t ready to commit to using a customs broker, and you just have some questions about Partner Government Agencies, then you might be interested in our personalized, one-on-one consulting services with one of our customs brokers. We can answer any of your questions in either 30- or 60-minute sessions, and we can guide you through the process of importing anything.
Call (855) 912-0406 today or chat in at the bottom-right side of your screen to get in touch with us!