The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced proposed changes to the fees it charges to recoup costs for conducting agricultural quarantine inspections (AQI) at U.S. ports of entry, such as hiring hundreds of new inspectors in recent years as well as Sunday, holiday and after-hours inspections.
The proposal, which will be published in the Federal Register this Friday, aligns fees with actual program costs so that no one party will pay more than the costs of the services they incur, according to APHIS.
The impact on the cross-border trucking industry will be substantial. APHIS, which says it used an independent accounting firm to review the AQI fee structure, argues that the current fees charged to trucks do not generate sufficient revenue to cover the costs of the services.
Currently, the Commercial Vehicle User Fee for a transponder is $205 (which includes $105 for the APHIS fee and $100 to CBP). APHIS is proposing to increase its portion of the transponder fee from US$105 to US$320 per year — a 205-per cent increase. Including the $100 CBP portion, the total fee to a commercial vehicle using a transponder would be $420, up from $205, under the plan. Commercial trucks without a transponder will see an increase $13.50 per crossing compared to the current fee of US$10.75, an increase of 52 per cent.
According to APHIS, other than some inflationary adjustments, the proposed increases are the first since 2002 (a previous attempt in 2009 to increase the fees was withdrawn when groups like the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations objected) and are necessary to protect the country’s agriculture sector – the United States’ largest industry and employer – from risks posed by foreign animal and plant pests and diseases. It claims the revenue from fees charged up until now has been insufficient to cover all costs and compelled the Department of Homeland Security – whose Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency conducts the inspections of conveyances and cargo entering the country – to use appropriated funds for additional important homeland security functions and initiatives.
“The proposed increases are ludicrous,” says David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation of the provincial trucking associations representing over 4,500 carriers. “They would considered so at any time, let alone in the current economic climate.”
“The United States, like Canada, has every right to protect its agricultural sector from the importation of foreign pests and diseases, and inspections are a necessary part of that. But setting astronomical fee increases without consideration of the impact on other industries – or without seeking ways to more effectively and efficiently deploy its resources through risk assessment as opposed to inspecting every truck whether it is hauling agricultural products or not – is completely untoward.”
“At a time when Canada and the United States are supposed to be working to implement the Beyond the Border Action Plan, APHIS comes along with a proposal that is beyond reason,” Bradley added.
He says APHIS should be using a more targeted, risk assessment approach to consultation based on the “trusted trader” principles employed in other border security programs.
“How efficient and effective is it to be inspecting and charging APHIS fees to trucks that are, for example, importing auto parts into the United States on plastic pallets?” he asks. “Inevitably, these costs will be passed along in higher freight rates to the shippers, importers and exporters.”
This proposed rule will be available for a 60 day comment period.