U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Trade Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda B. Smith said she has “tremendous confidence” that the department will keep moving forward on innovation to make the supply chain smoother and more secure as CBP waits for policy guidance from the new administration on issues ranging from China to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Smith, who is retiring tomorrow after seven years of overseeing CBP’s complex and collaborative trade enforcement mission, previously worked at the Treasury Department and on Capitol Hill. She called retirement “pretty bittersweet” after a long, fulfilling career.
“I have gotten so many opportunities to do some wonderful things,” she said on a call with reporters today, stressing that “the work we have done in the last couple of years will not stop because we have a lot more to do.”
That has included CBP acting in a leadership role on the international stage as the “point of the spear” in enforcing U.S. trade laws and regulations — $4 trillion in trade last year — and invaluable collaboration between government and private-sector partners to protect U.S. consumers and businesses.
The COVID-19 pandemic added new challenges to the trade enforcement mission, with CBP playing “a pretty significant role in that response,” Smith said, ensuring critical shipments needed in various sectors from U.S. manufacturing to front-line entities who needed personal protective equipment were able to get through — and as everyday Americans forced to curtail activities relied more on e-commerce to get essentials delivered.
While stopping importation of counterfeit or unsafe goods, CBP last year seized more than 12 million masks. In 2019, fewer than 2,000 counterfeit masks were seized.
Smith said CBP recognizes the importance of continued collaboration with the private sector to ensure supply chains are safe and secure, as well as the need to educate consumers about the real dangers from counterfeit goods and how they can assess the purchases they are making.
The assistant commissioner also lauded CBP’s “unique” global leadership in trying to eliminate forced labor from supply chains, with 25 million workers in forced labor. “We have a responsibility to them,” Smith said, adding that by ensuring a “clean supply chain” the U.S. “can send a strong message that forced labor is unacceptable.”
Having automation at the core of a supply chain strategy is also “critical,” she said, citing the breadth of opportunities with technologies such as artificial intelligence to modernize the supply chain, ensuring legitimate goods do not get delayed at the border and enabling same-day order fulfillment worldwide. CBP also needs to be able to have enforcement capabilities to react quickly as volume grows in surges such as the consumer demand seen at the beginning of the pandemic.
“People have worked tirelessly to ensure supply chains move smoothly,” Smith said. “I’m so proud of what they have done and will continue to do.” She has “tremendous confidence that the trade team at CBP will carry on” with its innovation, development, and collaboration goals.
A new administration means that policies could likewise change, and the assistant commissioner said CBP will be ready to receive that guidance and “implement those goals best we can.”
On the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trade pact signed in 2019 to replace NAFTA, CBP has been working hard to ensure the intent in the document is understood and “translate that into operational reality,” from issuing guidance to the public and collaborating with other agencies to educating employees who will be enforcing the provisions. If there is a change in the policy goal, CBP will implement that guidance appropriately.
On China, CBP is watching with interest the Biden administration review of policy goals as they relate to China and the use of remedies. Smith emphasized that this is “clearly a very complex area with a lot of threads that need to be addressed.”
Smith said she hopes that opportunities to improve data access and data sharing will continue to make the supply chain more agile and resilient and create a smoother experience with more predictability for the trade community to know what happens to their cargo once it arrives.