EHS Management

Beyond the Border—Managing Your Product for Import

The relentless advance of importation calls for a shift from the traditional emphasis on border inspections of imports to an approach that identifies high-risk segments in a product’s life cycle and verifies the safety of the product at those junctions.

That’s the view of eight federal agencies, including EPA, which in 2009 issued a draft guidance called Good Importer Practices. The draft builds on an earlier federal report that stated that the U.S. import process must “change from viewing a ‘snapshot’ of the product at the border to achieving a real-time ‘video’ across the product’s life cycle at the most appropriate points of production and distribution.” For example, at various points in a product’s life cycle—growing, harvesting, designing, manufacturing, processing, packing, receiving, storing, transporting, importing, and distributing—it may be appropriate for companies to consider implementing preventive controls to decrease the risk of the product causing harm to people, animals, and/or the environment.

In addition to EPA, the guidance was produced with input from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Office of United States Trade Representative (collectively, the agencies).

Agency Recommendations for Imports

In general, the agencies recommend that importers:

  • Know the foreign firms that produce the products they purchase and any other firms with which they do business and through which such products pass.
  • Understand the products they import and the vulnerabilities associated with those products.
  • Understand the hazards that may arise during the products’ life cycle.
  • Ensure proper control and monitoring of those hazards.

Identifying Risk

By instituting practices to identify and minimize risks, importers can determine the sources of greatest potential risk in a product’s life cycle and direct attention to areas where they can have the greatest positive impact to ensure the safety of the product. Importers should implement controls for known vulnerabilities, such as microbiological contamination and product defects, and monitor for other risks, such as counterfeiting or intentional contamination.

Not all of the many recommendations in the guidance apply to every product. However, in developing the recommendations, the agencies state that they did consider the complexity of product life cycles and production processes as well as the different regulatory frameworks to which various products can be subject. The agencies recognize that an importer’s ability to develop a safety and compliance program for imported products will vary based on the size and resource of the firm and the number of products imported. Accordingly, it may be beneficial to conduct a risk assessment to identify imported products or import practices that offer the best opportunities to lower the highest perceived risks.

The agencies also allow that importers may already be using other best practices that provide assurances that their products are in compliance with U.S. requirements. “[We] are not advising that these importers necessarily modify their practices,” state the agencies. “However, we believe importers who follow these Good Importer Practices may be less likely to import products that may be harmful to U.S. consumers, and, as a result, may, in some cases, facilitate admissibility determinations, and therefore, expedite the entry of their products into the United States.” The agencies add that following the recommendations does not guarantee compliance with applicable U.S. requirements, nor does this mean that the government cannot or will not take enforcement action should noncompliance be found.