Part Three :The ABCs of U.S. Customs Data- Issues & Shortcomings

Buyers beware. Users of U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (Bill of Lading) data need to be aware of the major shortcomings & pitfalls.  Part 3 of 3.

In addition to the plethora of potential iterations for each U.S. importer and corresponding foreign shipper identified on the shipping manifests, there are other significant problems.

There exists the Master versus House Bill of Lading (BOL) issue, which leads to many duplicate container counts.  The same shipment may appear under both filings.  Unless the TI provider has developed the technology to address this issue, accurate container counts for both shipper and importer will be impossible.

There can be dozens of duplicate bills of lading contained within the data

Further, there may be numerous – sometimes dozens – of revisions made to a particular bill of lading. These revisions may be published days or months subsequent to the original filing.  Unless said roadside TI provider makes provision for ongoing corrections by going back and deleting all previous entries for a particular shipment whenever a new revision shows up, transactional profiles will be greatly skewed.

Many bills of lading contain multiple containers.  Some containers contain multiple shipments that have been aggregated together.  There are many types and sizes of containers. A 40 foot container is 2 TEUS (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit) and a 20 foot container is 1 TEUS. A 45 foot container is 2.25 TEUS.  There are many other variations.  Therefore, the number of containers alone is not a dependable measurement. Neither is shipment count.  One shipment may contain 20 containers or may represent 1/5th of one container.

Although it is against the law, and more stringent measures have been employed since 9/11, many times the real shipper and importer of record do not appear on the BOL. Instead, the Freight Forwarder, NVOCC or some trade agency (middleman) may be listed.

A little sleuthing can reveal many secrets

Several thousand U.S. importers have petitioned CBP to have their identities suppressed on the publicly distributed BOLs under the trade secret provisions of the FOI (Freedom of Information) act.  Around 14% of all BOLS (millions of shipments a year) are thus suppressed.  It has been called “The Walmart Effect”.

In addition, some U.S. Importers and Foreign Suppliers seek to hide their identities by providing the required identity information but listing it within the product or trademarks area of the BOL instead of the name fields.

Despite legitimate tactics of name suppression or other more dubious methods employed to conceal the details involved in one’s trade activity, with a little clever sleuthing much can be revealed.

For the tainted toy study we conducted several years ago, we were able to identify over 40,000 toy related shipments over an 18 month period by Wal-Mart alone, despite their obvious efforts to mask their import activity.

Trade Intelligence is a lot more than data and a search/reporting tool.

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