U.S.: FPIA to tackle inspection issues

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U.S.: FPIA to tackle inspection issues

Update: the FPIA has announced it will hold a meeting on Dec. 3 at the Wyndham Hotel, Mount Laurel, New Jersey at 3pm. For more information contact info@fpia.org

While there are already several industry groups that work towards improving customs processes in the U.S., the Fresh Produce Import Alliance (FPIA) was formed in August with the goal of honing in on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agriculture issues. At the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Fresh Summit event, www.freshfruitportal.com caught up with two board members from the new group to hear more about their modus operandi.

Photo: PNCT

FPIA secretary Nelly Yunta said there were several issues that sparked the alliance's formation, but the major one was the implementation of Centralized Examination Stations (CES) for inspections in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

"This increased the costs for our customers, who are the importers," said Yunta, who is vice president of Crowley Customized Brokers.

"At the beginning we had a lot of delays when that happened, so the delays plus the additional cost from the inspection itself, created a lot of concern and complaints from importers, because the margins get reviewed more and more every time, and they’re trying to control costs.

"I personally went to Washington to address the issues, wrote letters, and I did get some answers - I have to say the CBP took the time to get back to me - but I figured that if we form an organization, an alliance, we will have more weight on our concerns."

FPIA president Joseph Galeone, who is VP for commercial development perishables at OHL International, said it took around six months to form the organization.

"The beginning part of putting it together took a little bit longer than what the problems we solve will," he said.

"We're organized, we’re a non-profit, we’re fully corporated, we have our PO Box, our bank account, our board and now from this point we’re ready to go full force forward."

Once the group was formed, Galeone said a meeting organized with CBP Agriculture by Yunta was able to resolve about 50% of the concerns facing importers.

He said the group currently had nine members, including some customs brokers, a cold storage facility, importers, and industry association United Fresh as an allied member. He hoped to increase membership, but not just to form a big organization for the sake of it.

He said CES inspections were the main priority at the moment, but the FPIA would open up to views on other hot topics in a meeting this month, which was to take place on Nov. 5 but was postponed for an undisclosed date due to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

"From the FPIA standpoint there’s a couple of things we want to tackle, and that’s how the exams are processed in New York, because they made a change there and it’s hurt the industry," Galeone said.

"They’re doing it because the process in New York is costing them too much time and money, and that’s a problem for the industry.

"We have containers coming off vessels in the northeast that are part of the cold chain, and they’re not being plugged in when they get off the vessel so the temperatures are rising."

He said containers had been going to exams with the containers opened and not closed up again once pallets of produce were taken out.

"They don't close it back up and the temperature of the container rises – these are all things we believe we can help the industry with.

"We’re focusing right now on the northeast because that’s where the focus needs to be, but if tomorrow there’s an issue with CBP Agriculture in Los Angeles or Seattle or Miami, we’re going to be right there to try and help that out."

Another concern for the industry is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) putting the onus on importers to foot the bill with any food safety issues that arise. The FPIA is understanding of why this move has been put in place, and will be offering its services to the industry to help deal with it.

"You have to understand the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a purpose, and they need to do what they need to do. Unfortunately, it’s very hard for a U.S. government agency to go to Ecuador or South Africa or anywhere in the world, and try to deal directly with the exporter," Yunta said.

"They have the importer to deal with, so the FDA is going to hold responsible the importer that is bringing that product in rather than reaching out to the world, so it makes sense what they are doing.

"Unfortunately, it could be very costly and damaging actually."

Galeone added that brokers, other legal entities and groups like the FPIA could help importers minimize and mitigate the implications of the FSMA.

"That's by preparing them to take proper steps; record keeping, doing their due diligence, vetting out their safety standards with their growers, and requiring regular updates on their program, and documenting it; that's the way to minimize it, and the FPIA can help educate importers with what to do.

"Awareness is the key word. Once you know what's coming to you, you're prepared," Yunta added.


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