The Uneasy Relationship between an Importer and Its Customhouse Broker—Part 1

John Goodrich | April 23, 2006 | Import Basics
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The Uneasy Relationship between an Importer and Its Customhouse Broker - Part 1 | Shipping SolutionsThis is the first in a three-part series of articles that will explore the relationship between the customhouse broker and the importer. This relationship can be a rocky one, fraught with unspoken assumptions, expectations and frustration.

Along the way we will meet a bold broker, fed up with the ill treatment received from customers, and an importer at wits end about the importing process.

Please understand that no actual brokers or importers were harmed in the process of writing this article. Any similarity between the people represented in this article and actual individuals is merely a coincidence intentionally designed to discomfit the reader. The author takes little or no responsibility for the opinions, ranting, ravings or other outbursts expressed within these articles, unless the reader likes them.

Customhouse or Customs brokers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the importing world. They are overworked, underpaid and yes, “they don’t get no respect.”

The broker is the last link in the import supply chain. Often the bearer of bad news and collector of duties, fees and transportation payments, the relationship with the broker can be a contentious one. The broker, however, is not usually the root cause of your import problems and ultimately s/he is not your enemy.

I recently encountered a broker who was so frustrated with his customers, he offered me a draft article berating his clients and telling them how they should transact their import business. I suggested that berating customers was seldom a wise business strategy.

After much discussion and rewriting he has agreed to a modified version of his original article. This has resulted in the development of:

The Customhouse Broker’s Bill of Rights

10 things your broker wants to tell you but won’t for fear you will fire him/her.

Herewith let it be it known that Customhouse Brokers shall be accorded:

1. Right of Timely Payment

Brokers are not banks. Please don’t hold my invoice hostage because your carrier assigned the wrong freight rate to the bill of lading. Better yet, make your freight payments directly to the carrier. While we are at it, would you please finally implement Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) and make your duty payments directly to Customs!

2. Right of Full Disclosure

Brokers are not mind readers. We cannot offer you quality advice unless you tell us everything about your import business relationships.

3. Right of Compensation for Work Performed

Classification is a skill. If you want me to do HTS classification of your commodities then pay me. Otherwise, classify your products and then give me a fully itemized list. This goes as well for having me do your country of origin determination work and any other function you are too lazy to do yourself.

4. Right of Communication

When I call you it is usually urgent. Respond to my phone call or email. . . please.

5. Freedom from Whining

Brokers are not therapists. Complain about your job to your spouse. If the problem is your spouse then please complain to your dog, cat, gerbil, goldfish or other support being.

6. Freedom to Do One’s Job

Help me help you. Introduce me to the senior management within your company. I’m not going over your head. I can help you advance compliance initiatives within your company. This is my job.

7. Freedom from Execution

Don’t shoot the messenger. I am not a crook. Don’t treat me like one. I didn’t sink the vessel. I didn’t cause the port strike. I didn’t write the customs laws, but I am obligated to abide by them and so are you.

8. Freedom from Redoing Work

I’ve already given you a paper and electronic copy of the customs entry along with supporting documents. Please keep better records. (By the way, it’s the law.)

9. Right of Professional Treatment

Brokers are professionals. I may not be a doctor or an attorney, but I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the customs regulations. I really do understand that you are the customer and you are not stupid. Please treat me with the same level of respect you expect from me.

10. Freedom to Make a Buck

Brokers are in business to make a profit. I recognize mine is a competitive business and you could easily take your business elsewhere. Please, however, do not begrudge my success. As my business succeeds, I am able to attract and retain quality employees to support your business success.

All humor has its source in truth. As we all know, truth hurts and absolute truth hurts absolutely. If, as an importer, you recognized yourself in any of the above you might consider rethinking how you interact with your broker.

If, as an importer, you think there is another side of the story to be told, then please read on to part 2 of this series.

This article was first published in April 2006 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.

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