Importers and Exporters struggle to keep their most closely guarded secrets.
Did you know that every piece of information on an ocean bill of lading is available to your competitor?
As an importer or exporter of merchandise, companies involved in international commerce are required to transmit business sensitive information to the United States Government. Every time your supplier ships your product (via ocean freight) from their factory to you in the United States, all of the information on the ocean Bill of Lading is collected and recorded by the Federal Government. This data is a key component of the trade statistics that the Federal Government generates. It tells us things like how our economy is doing, and if we’re importing more than exporting.
But, did you know that the specific information on each and every Bill of Lading is subject to public disclosure thanks to the Freedom of Information Act? That’s right, all of the information that you find on an ocean Bill of Lading is available to the public!
This information includes:
- Notify Party
- Commodity Description
- and more.
The first company that began collecting and selling this trade information was PIERS: The Port Import/Export Reporting Service www.piers.com. In the past several years, others have also entered this market (IG Import Genius www.importgenius.com, Zepol: www.zepol.com, and there are probably several more).
This means that if you want to snoop on your competitor and find out who they’re buying from or who they’re selling to, then this information is very valuable. On the flip side, if you are trying to keep your competitors from finding out how you are able to buy such high quality items at such great prices, then you really don’t want this information out there for the world to see.
So, is there a solution? Can you prevent your information from showing up on these different trade data sites? The good news is that there is a solution, and the answer is quite straight forward. The key to keeping your sourcing information confidential is to prevent it from being released to companies like PIERS in the first place. Once the request is received and updated in CBP’s (Customs & Border Protection’s) system, your manifest information will not be released for a period of two years.
A subsequent request must be filed at least 60 days prior to the end of the two year period to assure there is no gap. Here is a link to the Federal Regulations specific to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) as it applies to Import and Export manifest information:
The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations e-CFR Title 19 affects customs duties. Section 103 affects the confidentiality — or lack thereof — of information in shipping manifests.
(Pro tip: you may see ads for creating pdfs and other related products as you browse the e-CFR pages, you can safely ignore these ads).
Scroll down the page and read this section:
§103.31 Information on vessel manifests and summary statistical reports.
There is a defined process for shippers to request confidentiality for their manifest data. Without such a request, the data is available to requestors, such as the several companies that publish shipping manifest data online.
If you would like ACM Logistics & Consulting Inc to help you with manifest confidentiality requests, please Contact Us and we’ll be happy to assist you!
Remember, ACM Logistics & Consulting Inc specializes in helping importers and exporters make sense of all this, and your supply chain secrets really can be secret!