By Brian Dunn

When it was suggested to Carol West, President of the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers (CSCB) in Ottawa, that a career as a customs broker sounded pretty mundane, she balked at the thought, pointing to her own position as President for over 25 years as proof to the contrary. “It is an incredibly interesting, complex, analytical and strategic business. It’s about providing value to customers. And the fact that we have about 1,000 people taking our courses each year should tell you something.”

CSCB represents the interests of some 160 corporate customs brokers, over 3,800 certified customs specialist designates as well as associate members who are not customs brokers, but are actively involved in trade or trade facilitation services. Third-party professionals clear about 90 per cent of goods coming into Canada. The remaining 10 per cent is cleared by in- house specialists employed by importers.

In addition, CSCB deals with federal government departments and agencies involved in regulating international trade, primarily Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

More than 170,000 importers deal with CBSA each year and most rely on the services of a licensed customs broker to get their shipments cleared at the border. Customs brokers also help importers and trade data information providers leverage that information into strategic advantage, turning information into critical business intelligence by offering a growing range of specialized services to help importers develop new product lines, explore new markets, evaluate the impact of global change and cut costs, according to West.

CSCB and its predecessor have been providing a variety of courses since 1960 as the industry became more complex and required passing an exam to be certified. About 500 people enroll in the Certified Customs Specialist course (CCS) each year, another 250 in Professional Development Modules and 250 take the Introduction to Customs course.

The CCS designation is the standard in the customs marketplace and required by those who work in the custom brokerage business in Canada. In addition to a detailed review of the four basic steps involved in the Canadian customs process (Reporting of Goods, Release of Goods, Accounting for Goods and Payment of Duties and Taxes), students are taught a number of other requirements. They include the principal acts involved in the importation and exportation of goods, customs broker licensing requirements and agency agreements, the Canadian Customs tariff classification system, tariff treatments and trade agreements, export and import permits, U.S. Customs procedures and the Special Import Measures Act. The online course takes a year to complete, beginning each October, and there are about 4,000 people across Canada who have completed the course, estimated West.

“We helped develop a similar course for our sister organization in the U.S., the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America,” she added.

Like CCS, Professional Development Modules are designed for international trade professionals and provide in-depth knowledge of specific customs topics such as the Canadian harmonized system of tariff classification, understanding NAFTA, export documentation and regulations and taxes on imported goods and services.

The Introduction to Customs course is for personnel requiring basic information about the import-export field. The course explains the roles of the players, namely the importer, exporter, Canada Border Services Agency, and the customs broker and how other government departments affect the importing and exporting of goods.

In addition, CSCB just launched a Certified Trade Compliance Specialist course which is more advanced than CCS and focuses on areas of trade compliance. “The course contains a number of modules and we have a very distinguished advisory board, including some international trade lawyers,” West noted.

Import-export business requirements are complicated, whether it is food safety, free trade agreements or rules of origin, said West and the industry turns to CSCB for help and to minimize costs.

And while there has been no significant increase in red tape since 911, the red tape has shifted towards more focus on security measures. “There are more requirements for advanced data and since 90 per cent of custom releases are electronically generated, it’s now very much about security.” said West. In terms of personnel, West doesn’t believe the industry is facing a shortage. “Some community colleges are focusing on the business and to have 500 people in the CCS course is an encouraging sign the industry is still growing and providing a rewarding career path for young people.”

CAROL WEST- in brief

Carol West is the President of the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers as well as the Secretary of the International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations, an organization with members in all regions of the world.  Her academic background includes studies toward an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master of Arts Degree and a Ph.D, and she has taught as a Sessional Lecturer in political science at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Carol has participated for many years in Canadian and international discussions on harmonization of data requirements, customs processes, border management, supply chain security and trade facilitation.

She was invited to join the World Customs Organization (WCO)’s Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG) when it was formed in 2006 (the only Canadian in this group of 17 global companies and 13 international trade associations), was elected PSCG Chair in June, 2008 and was elected for a second term as Chair in April, 2010.

Carol has contributed to WCO’s capacity building work on the SAFE Framework of Standards in El Salvador, Argentina and Guatemala in partnership with CBSA, and is currently engaged in capacity building projects in Lao PDR and Vietnam with the World Bank and WCO, respectively. She is the only business representative on WCO’s Advisory Board on Leadership and Management Development.

In the past several years, Carol has served as an external advisor to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada on a number of CBSA and CFIA audits relating to risk management and border processes. She was awarded the inaugural CATIE award for Trade Leadership in Canada, and has also been recognized by WCO on International Customs Day for her service to the international Customs community. She is a Past Chair of the Forum for Young Canadians, a program which is jointly sponsored by the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada, which brings students to Ottawa each year to learn about how government works.