Understanding Priority Trade Issues: It’s Not Paranoia if Customs Really Is Singling You Out!

John Goodrich | May 4, 2008 | Import Basics
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One_Person_to_be_WatchedAnyone, who has signed onto the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website has likely noticed some dramatic changes. Customs has upgraded the site with some much-needed sparkle and dazzle. They have also reorganized the presentation of the information.

Those of us with limited capacity to adapt to change are bemoaning the fact that we can no longer quickly find the information we need and must now learn how to navigate the improved site. Of course most of the information is still there. Of course some of us simply enjoy complaining, too.

All of the changes, however, were not merely cosmetic. The reorganization of the site now presents information in a more accessible format. Topics that were once buried deeply into the site now gain a more prominent position. One of those topic areas is entitled "Priority Trade Issues."

The old joke states: "You’re not paranoid. The whole world really is out to get you!"

From a customs perspective, that statement is a little strong. Despite our perceptions, customs has no sinister motive to scrutinize you or your company. CBP is looking for compliance with regulations. It might be the case, however, that your company truly is subject to a higher level of scrutiny than other companies.

The above statement could be rephrased to read: "You’re not paranoid! Customs really is, or might be, singling you out!"

Priority Trade Issues

On its website CBP now clearly highlights what it is calling priority trade issues. CBP offers the following definition:

Priority Trade Issues (PTIs) are identified high-risk areas where CBP strategically focuses limited resources as part of a layered approach to risk management. These PTIs are issues that cause significant revenue loss, economic risk to U.S. industry, or represent health and safety concerns to citizens.

The site goes on to detail seven PTIs:

  • Agriculture
  • Antidumping and Countervailing Duties (ADCVD)
  • Import Safety
  • Intellectual Property Rights
  • Penalties
  • Revenue
  • Textiles

A synopsis of each of these PTIs follows. For complete details regarding each of theses issues, I encourage you to explore this portion of the CBP website.


Most prominent in this section are the rules regarding wood packaging materials. The information also details the import requirements for agricultural products, emphasizing the need to prevent the importation of pests and diseases that could harm U.S. agriculture.

Antidumping and Countervailing Duties

Antidumping and countervailing duties (ADCVD) are strong policy tools that utilize punitive duty rates for leveling the playing field when it is deemed our trading partners are not playing by the rules. The chief link within this section is the ADD/CVD search engine that allows the trade a simple approach for researching whether or not their imports are subject to these duties.

Import Safety

Splashed across the media have been examples of toys, food and other products that have not met federal quality or safety standards. This portion of the site highlights these issues and provides compliance information.

Intellectual Property Rights

CBP has authority to screen for illegal imports of trademarks, trade names, and copyrights. This portion of the site details how importers can register their intellectual property so that CBP will enforce their rights. Also included is the intellectual property rights search engine (IPRS) that allows importers to proactively screen their imports against unintentional infractions.


Penalties are included as a complement to other PTIs and to provide uniformity in assessing penalties and gaining compliance. From an importer’s perspective, this portion of the site provides the strongest arguments for remaining compliant.


As the second largest revenue generator for the U.S. government, revenue collection has and continues to be a priority issue with CBP. While this section focuses on revenue collection, it also highlights bonding, the automated clearing house, and the periodic monthly statement payment option.


As a former textile importer, I jokingly exclaim that textiles are more highly regulated than illicit drugs. Because textiles are still subject to quota restrictions and they bear some of the highest duty rates in the tariff, they earn the status of PTI. This portion of the site includes details regarding quota programs.

Additional Import Scrutiny

If your company or industry engages in any import business effected by any of the above PTIs, it is, perhaps, small solace to discover that the additional regulatory scrutiny you are receiving is indeed real and not due to some cognitive distortion. The fact that your import trade is singled out does not mean you are doing anything wrong. It demands, however, that your company step up its compliance efforts in these areas.

For companies and industries not on the list, I caution you from considering that you are subject to a lower level of scrutiny. Don’t get paranoid. Know, however, that CBP is still monitoring your company for trade compliance, too.

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