The latest threat to ecommerce: crackdowns by the US Customs and Border Protection

If you want to ship illegal goods into the US, you might think sending them via air freight as probably the worst way to get them into the country. You would be wrong. Tens of thousands of tons of shipments enter our air freight ports every day, and the vast majority of them receive no inspection whatsoever.

In the past, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has made it easier particularly for smaller volume shippers to send their stuff here without having to pay any duties or tariffs, under what is called an Entry Type 86 exception. This means if the value of the item is less than $800 per buyer and per day that the shipment arrives, nothing is owed. Last year a billion such packages came into the US, with many coming from two Chinese shippers, Temu and Shein.

But criminals are clever, at least initially. Many of them have taken advantage of Type 86 exemptions to ship drug precursor chemicals and raw textiles and other things, knowing that their cargo won’t be touched as it moved through the ports. Well, that situation has changed and now CBP is checking things more carefully. As you might imagine, given the tonnage that goes through our ports, this is slowing things down considerably. The stricter scrutiny has had results: CBP has suspended customs brokers from the Type 86 program and seized many illegal shipments.

There are several downstream problems that could happen. First, expect delays on your favorite Amazon package that isn’t in their own warehouse and has to come from overseas. Cargo flights will be delayed or cancelled when the warehouse ports fill up with yet-to-be-inspected merchandise. Second, criminals will undoubtedly migrate to maritime shipments, which don’t get much in the way of inspection either. Third, major shippers will probably shift to consolidating orders and shipping to their own warehouses. All this means longer shipping times and these delays could result in higher prices to the ultimate consumer. All of this turmoil could spell trouble for legit ecommerce businesses that rely on predictable shipments of their goods, which is ironic when you think about it.

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