The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced proposed changes to the fees it charges to recoup the costs of conducting agricultural quarantine inspections (AQI) at U.S. ports of entry. The proposal amends the user fee regulations by adding new fee categories and adjusting current fees charged for certain agricultural quarantine and inspection services that are provided in connection with certain commercial vessels, commercial trucks, commercial railroad cars, commercial aircraft, and international passengers arriving at U.S. ports and customs on a cost recovery method. It is further proposing an increase in overtime inspection fees. The original notice concerning inspection fees can be found here and one dealing with overtime fees here.
The proposed changes would see commercial trucks with a transponder pay US$320 a year – a 205% increase from today’s fee of US$105. Including the $100 CBP portion, the total fee to a commercial vehicle using a transponder would be $420, up from $205, under the plan. Trucks without transponders will be charged US$13.50 per crossing, up 52% from today’s fee of US$10.75. A complete list of the proposed fee changes is available here.
APHIS states that the increase will ensure that the program has the financial stability it needs to continue the critical work of keeping U.S. agriculture safe and productive. APHIS notes that “as volumes of international trade and travel both increase, so do the risks that foreign animal and plant pests and diseases can enter and establish themselves in the United States.” It is the position of APHIS that “fees should fully fund the actual costs of running the AQI program and be borne by those using the services.” APHIS further notes that in many cases current AQI fees do not generate sufficient revenue to cover the costs of the services it provides and that while the program has hired several hundred additional inspectors and incurred other costs to meet the needs associated with the significant increase in international trade and passenger volumes over the past decade, its user fees have not risen commensurately during that time.
Response from the trade community to the proposed fee increase has, understandably, been less than enthusiastic. In a press release, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) David Bradely stated that the sharp increases cannot be absorbed by the industry. “The proposed increases are ludicrous,” Bradley said. “They would be considered so at any time, let alone in the current economic climate.”
He said the increase goes against the Beyond the Border Action Plan’s movement to reduce red tape and costs for cross-border trade. According to Bradley, APHIS should be using a more targeted, risk assessment approach based on the “trusted trader” compliance principles employed in other border security programs.
The proposal has also been met by resistance from some U.S. importers, especially in the fresh produce sector. Those against the fee increase feel it would be a huge financial burden and would negatively affect their ability to import many of the products consumers have been used to seeing in their supermarkets.
Although the deadline to submit comments ends today (June 24, 2014), a request to extend the comment period for 60 days has been made by various groups including the United Fresh Produce Association. Additional information about the increase can be obtained at the AQI User Fee Review website.
The Canadian government has invited concerned parties to provide any submissions, comments or applicable information regarding the proposed fees to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (firstname.lastname@example.org).