The U.S. Customs Service's goal of creating a totally electronic environment for importing cargo into the United States advanced significantly when the Los Angeles district recently completed a series of paperless transactions with Mattel Inc.
The El Segundo, Calif., toy company became the first importer at a seaport to complete import transactions by filing entry summaries electronically in lieu of paper documents.
"It's a major step," said Sam Banks, assistant commissioner for commercial operations at Customs headquarters in Washington. Mr. Banks said Customs' goal is to electronically process 75 percent of all import transactions by the end of 1995.
Customs has been electronically processing for several years the brief entry document known as Form 3461, which is used to release cargo and contains minimal information on a shipment.
Importers or their brokers must file 10 days after cargo release a longer entry summary, known as Form 7501, which requires much more information.
Customs has three ways of filing entry summaries electronically. The first is through line release, a bar code-based system that clears entries by the millions on the U.S.-Canadian border. The second is all-electronic filing, being used by a few highly sophisticated companies.
Mattel is the first company to use pre-classification, which relies on standard agreements between Customs and importers about frequently shipped goods. Customs officials visit company facilities and grant pre-clearance based on inspections and other criteria.
Exporters serving Third World countries are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of a new trade finance program announced recently by the Japanese government and the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Under the program, Japanese government agencies, including the Export Insurance Division of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, will provide guarantees on up to $1 billion of U.S. exports to Japan and developing countries.
Bankers and exporters say the program will have little impact on the $41 billion U.S. trade deficit with Japan, primarily because financing is not usually a problem in selling to Japan.
The real benefit of the program would come from guarantees on sales to Third World countries, said Bob Smith, assistant treasurer for trade and project finance at General Electric Co. "Without a guarantee, you may not be able to get financing at all," on exports to many of those nations, he said.