The Importance of Managing Customs Data Elements Upstream

Written by Nicolaas Beehler
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3 minute read


Like salmon swimming up the river to find a place to spawn, it benefits importers to look at the flow of shipments, ultimately to move upstream to gather relevant data. If you wait until the last minute to get something done, it can feel like a tidal wave of activity coming at you.

You may ultimately see delays in the customs clearance of your shipment, for example. Even if you manage to hustle to pull everything together in a frenzied rush, is that the best mode to conduct an organized work process? 

For importers in control of moving goods through customs at the country of import, it’s important to organize the data elements of the products moving into the country as early as possible. Often called a parts database, item list, or SKU repository, this is an essential step to stay organized.

Some of the most common key attributes to organize in a parts database include:

  • Product ID (Item #, SKU, Style #)
  • Commercial Description
  • HS/HTS Code (classification of the item)
  • Country of Origin
  • Free Trade Agreement applicability
  • Anti-dumping case or other additional duty flags
  • Participating Government Agency data elements

Many systems exist that give you a platform to get organized with managing product/SKU data. We see many importers who started with a spreadsheet and are looking for something as an improvement.

Even companies who have what most would call a modern system (an ERP, like SAP or equivalent), often are lacking the right fields and access to HTS content to make the system work for their needs.

As a web-based system, Tradeflow offers a great location to manage the data elements. It is designed to help importers and exporters manage the data necessary to move goods. 

As a centralized database, authenticated users can conveniently add and update product/SKU records. With the ability to run reports and define work queues to complete the required fields, companies can start to build standardized processes for how and when data elements are added.

Watch our video on Tradeflow to learn more

Further, there are various ways to identify the product/SKU data that should load into Tradeflow. One method is to leverage purchase order (PO) data issued to suppliers. PO data is typically issued at least weeks, if not months before goods will ship into their destination country.

By digitally scraping off the item information from POs (often with other details, like a product description, the buyer, division, etc.), this information loads into the system in a very upstream manner. This gives ample time to start assessing and collecting the necessary customs data elements.

Other data sources exist too as options, besides POs. A good starting point is to follow the “breadcrumb trail” up the product procurement process to the earliest point where a product is defined as a sell-able product that is almost certainly going to cross a border later.

However, it is also a balancing act, because if you go too far upstream, you may start loading more products into the system than is necessary, wasting valuable customs compliance resource time on products that never ship.

Where necessary, if an importer needs help on a classification or assessing other attributes, they can assign products to an outside consultant, like Tradewin. With automatic tracking of updates, the importer can rest assured there is an audit trail of activity to reference later if needed.

The ultimate goal – product SKU “nirvana”, if you will – is to go from a reactive state of mind, under a lot of time pressure, to a proactive state, leaving plenty of time to make the right decisions. 

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Blog was originally posted on July 24, 2019 8 AM

Topics: Customs

Nicolaas Beehler

Written by Nicolaas Beehler

As Director of Tradeflow®️, Nicolaas helps companies navigate the complexity of international trade regulations. With Tradeflow, he assists companies to efficiently cross customs borders through the aid of software. This requires a focus on the trade data tied to the physical movement of goods.

3 minute read