An Importer’s Guide To Partner Government Agencies

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Numerous Partner Government Agencies regulated imported goods that come into the country. Learn about the primary ones and what products they regulate before you import your items.
April 1, 2020
Last Modified: March 7, 2024
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U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) defines a Partner Government Agency (PGA) as an organization they work with to regulate imported goods. CBP simply oversees the entrance of goods that come into the country. PGAs actually set the standards for the goods they regulate and CBP act as enforcers upon entry. 

Before importers bring their goods into the country, they’ll need to determine if other governments agencies regulate their products other than CBP. Buyers will have to abide by the regulations of PGA’s that also oversee the entry of their goods. 

Our guide to Partner Government Agencies will discuss the offices that work alongside the CBP and the goods they oversee.

What is a Partner Government Agency?

The CBP is unable to regulate every single type of product that enters the country. Instead, they enlist the support of PGAs that have jurisdiction over specific types of products. With this arrangement in place, CBP can apply their general importing guidelines while PGAs scrutinize specific products. 

In some cases, PGAs might be referred to as Other Government Agencies (OGA). PGA is used to describe agencies that are part of the Border Interagency Executive Council (BIEC). OGA is a broader term, as it’s used to describe agencies that are part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and BIEC. 

As an importer, it can be difficult to follow CBP guidelines and the regulations enforced by the PGA that monitors their imported items. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the most relevant PGAs and the products they regulate.   

How Many Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) Are There?

There are over 40 different PGAs that work with the CBP to regulate goods that are imported into the country. Some commodities are regulated by more than one, and there are thousands of different factors involved that could impact whether a shipment is let through the border. 

FDA paperwork on a clipboard

Partner Government Agencies Importers Need to be Aware Of

While there is an extensive list of PGAs involved in the import process, individual importers usually only need to be familiar with the ones connected to their specific business. 

Most of these agencies operate as singular branches within larger departments. In some cases, the department itself plays a significant role in the import regulation process. 

For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has multiple branches dedicated to monitoring both imports and exports.  

If you aren’t yet sure of what you’re planning on importing, here’s a list of the main departments involved in the import process.

  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Department of Commerce (DOC)
  • Department of the Interior (DOI)
  • Department of Justice (DOJ)
  • Department of the Treasury (USDT)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT)

In the following sections, we’ll review the most common agencies in these departments, and those that operate independently, which you’re likely to encounter as an importer. These include programs like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), to name a few. 

Let’s get started.  

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA is responsible for regulating products for human and animal use. To assist U.S. buyers, they have various import guides for the goods they regulate. 

This includes:

  • Human food
  • Human drugs
  • Medical products
  • Cosmetics
  • Tobacco
  • Medical devices 
  • Products that emit radiation
  • Animal and veterinary goods

Importers must ensure their goods meet the correct quality standards for FDA customs clearance. Failure to follow these rules typically results in immediate destruction of the products in question. 

The FDA keeps track of the types of imported commodities that are brought into the U.S. each year. Consider some of their recent reports. 

Percentage of FDA Regulated Imports In 2023

CommodityPercentage of Imports
Devices48%
Human foods30%
Cosmetics8%
Housewares & food related items8%
Radiological healthy3%
Drugs and biologics2%
Animal feed1%
Tobacco products<1%

Provided by the FDA 

As this data shows, importers will likely need to consult FDA guidelines for importing devices and human foods. 

Though technically separate from the FDA, importers may also encounter regulations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) if they are bringing in biological materials that may be related to drug testing. 

Particular imports the CDC regulates include:

  • Infectious biological agents that can cause illness in humans
  • Materials that are known or can reasonably be expected to have infectious biological agents
  • Vectors like bats or insects that could have human disease
  • Pathogens of high consequence

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. 

There is one other agency closely tied to drug imports, though it operates under the DOJ rather than the HHS. 

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Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

If you happen to bring in any kind of controlled substances, you may also have to work with the DEA. Technically speaking, drugs and medications fall under the FDA in terms of quality regulations. 

However, the DEA may have specific requirements for the secure storage and handling of certain controlled substances. Importers also have to follow the DEA’s detailed record keeping guidelines. 

Any importer wanting to bring int controlled substances will need to apply for a permit and follow extremely strict labeling and handling regulations. Failure to adhere to these guidelines will result in the DEA confiscating a shipment. 

Applications for a permit will need to be sent to DEA’s Diversion Control Division. Importers must also notify the agency when they bring in controlled substances into the country using a Form 236

A fishing boat checking a large net for fish

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

The CPSC’s Office of Import Surveillance (EXIS) helps the CBP with examining imports of consumer products. They provide numerous resources buyers can use to ensure they follow all safety requirements when bringing in consumer goods into the country.    

CPSC regulations are based on various product safety laws, such as the: 

  • Federal Hazardous Substances Act
  • Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970
  • Federal Hazardous Substances Act
  • Children’s Gasoline Burn Prevention Act

The CPSC also has a Regulatory Robot on their site that small businesses can use to determine if their goods are safe for children and other consumers. This is especially useful to you as an importer when choosing suppliers and manufacturers. 

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)

The ATF regulates the importation of alcohol and tobacco products. They typically restrict the sale of firearms and explosives, except for importers with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Therefore, importers will need to make an arrangement with an FFL to bring firearms into the country. 

When importing gun parts and accessories, FFLs will need an ATF Form 6, Application and Permit. It takes the ATF four to six weeks to process the document after receiving it. 

ATF does allow an unlicensed person to obtain a permit to import sporting ammunition and firearm parts. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. 

Prohibited ammunition and firearm parts imports include:

  • Armor piercing ammunition
  • Tracer ammunition
  • Incendiary ammunition
  • Frames
  • Receivers
  • Barrels or barreled actions

ATF allows antique firearms made before 1898 to be imported without an ATF Form 6 or an FFL.

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

Considering how closely monitored alcohol and tobacco products are monitored, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that importers will need to work with an additional agency during the import process. 

The TTB is responsible for 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 also 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 Alcohol Labeling Formulation Division before they can be sold in the U.S. market. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a large branch of the federal government that provides leadership on food, agriculture, and natural resources. They also partner with the CBP to regulate the importation of agricultural products. 

USDA consists of numerous agencies that fulfill this role: 

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
  • Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS)

Each of these agencies have unique regulations regarding the importation of food and agricultural related products. 

APHIS

The primary focus of APHIS is preventing the accidental importation of foreign pests and diseases that could be within agricultural products. They have numerous entry requirements that must be met before plant and animal goods can enter the country. 

In some cases, APHIS may restrict the importation of a certain animal or plant organism due to the situation in the country of origin. The agency also uses their National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NSVL) to provide information regarding animal diseases. 

FSIS

The FSIS regulates the importation of meat, poultry, and egg products from other countries. 

FSIS ensures goods are:

  • Safe
  • Wholesome
  • Unadulterated
  • Properly labeled and packaged

FSIS uses their Equivalence Process to determine which countries have equivalent meat, poultry, or egg safety protocols. Countries with these systems in place are eligible for import. 

Imported goods from eligible countries are identified using the following:

  • Process category
  • Product category
  • Product group

These categories and groups can be found in the FSIS Product Categorization document and  are implemented in the Public Health Information System (PHIS)

All meat, poultry, and egg products will be inspected by FSIS workers at the port of entry as an added layer of security.

AMS

The AMS is responsible for administering Marketing Orders and Section 8e Import regulations that apply to a variety of goods. 

This includes:

  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables
  • Specialty crops

Additionally, the AMS mandates printing certain information on agricultural labels, such as:

  • The country of origin
  • Pesticides
  • Contact information for the shipper and farmer

AMS is responsible for inspecting and grading imported produce on how closely it compares to domestically grown produce. Generally speaking, the closer the standards of a foreign nation are to those of the United States, the easier it will be for you to secure import permission.

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National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)

NMFS, also known as NOAA Fisheries, is an agency under the DOC that regulates the international trade of fish and fish products, to reduce the risk of extinction for certain marine species.

NMFS is focused on the stewardship of the U.S.’s ocean resources. They have numerous requirements regarding the importation of seafood and other ocean products. 

NMFS regulations can be found for programs such as the:

  • Patagonia and Antarctic Toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) Import Information
  • Tuna Tracking and Verification Program
  • International Trade Permits
  • Tuna/Dolphin Embargo Status Updates
  • Seafood Import and Export Tool

NMFS works alongside other agencies that have guidelines that overlap, such as the FDA. Much like the DEA, the NMFS is not a quality regulation division, but can be involved if seafood imports include items under its purview. 

Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

The FWS works with the CBP to ensure the safety and protection of imported wildlife products. 

FWS is also responsible for regulating export and transport of endangered species from and within the United States. The FWS issues permits on occasion for importers to bring in exotic or endangered animals, but only with good reason. Imported products made from endangered animals are prohibited.

This includes:

  • Ivory
  • Whale teeth
  • Tortoise/Turtle shells
  • Shark fins
  • Coral
  • Exotic

Importers will need to submit at Declaration form 3-177 to the FWS when bringing in goods they regulate into the country. Products will also need to enter through a Designated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Port, unless buyers obtain a Designated Port Exception Permit (DPEP). 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

The agency within the DOT that importers are most likely to encounter is the NHTSA which is responsible for regulating and enforces Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). 

NHTSA have regulations for the following with regard to vehicle imports:

  • Temporary importation
  • Permanent importation
  • Vehicle eligibility 
  • Bond requirements

If the vehicle a buyer brings into the U.S. doesn’t abide by NHTSA regulations, the agency will require a Registered Importer to bring the vehicle into the country. Non-conforming vehicles will also have to be altered until they conform with NHTSA guidelines.

Manufacturers of imported vehicles must also follow certification and vehicle labeling requirements. 

Read our article on how to import vehicles to the USA. It’ll show you how to stay in compliance with DOT regulations. 

Federal Communication Commission (FCC)

The FCC is the agency 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. 

The FCC requires radio frequency equipment imports to meet one of 11 conditions outlined by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in Title 47 Section 2.1204. If a buyer is unsure if their goods abide by FCC regulations, they can import them in small quantities for testing. Radio frequency equipment also must comply with FCC labeling requirements.  

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Finally, there’s the EPA, which regulates the import of and safe transport of products that could harm the environment. 

This includes products like: 

  • Ozone-depleting substances
  • Pesticides
  • Herbicides,
  • Toxic waste
  • Dangerous chemicals
  • Fuels 

Despite not being part of a cabinet department, the EPA has wide-reaching rights to issue permits and fines, as well as create regulations and strictly enforce them. 

EPA also has emission regulations that apply to the imports of vehicles. Buyers will have to consider these guidelines and DOT rules when bringing them into the country. 

A CBP worker at the window of a CBP truck

What is the Border Interagency Executive Council?

The BIEC is an executive advisory board that is designed to coordinate regulatory efforts between the CBP and various PGAs. The board is represented by over 40 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 Systems. Each of the PGAs involved in the BIEC is expected to maintain and optimize information in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system.

This makes 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, it’s easier to collect and share data. 

Working With A Partner Government Agency: How to Comply with PGA Regulations

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 is 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 in 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 a 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. 

Navigate Various PGA Regulations with USA Customs Clearance

There are many PGAs out there with a variety of regulations. Navigating them all doesn’t need to be difficult. With the help of USA Customs Clearance, you’ll be able to abide by all the guidelines applied to your imported goods. 

We can also provide a variety of other services, such as:

Trust USA Customs Clearance as your reliable partner in conquering the challenges posed by partner government agencies. Our experienced team is committed to providing seamless solutions that empower your business.

Contact us through our site or call our team at (855) 912-0406 for more information about the services we can provide. 

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